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ADD/ADHD Symptoms in Children

By Stewart Brently ; Updated August 14, 2017

The "terrible twos" is something every parent has to go through. But for a number of parents with children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavioral problems that they think their children will outgrow by age 3 can become larger in quantity and frequency, and even more severe. At the age where some of you might be considering sending your toddler to preschool, there are a number of behaviors to watch out for as your child blooms into a bigger, more social human being.

Most children experience times when their attention or behavior veers out of control. For children with ADHD, however, this can occur so frequently and severely that it interferes with their ability to function adequately on a daily basis.

Despite it most often being diagnosed later in childhood, ADHD can be a problem already at 3 years of age. Learning to distinguish between normal 3-year-old behavior and the symptoms of ADHD will help you better understand what motivates your child and when seeking professional help might be necessary.


Toddlers naturally have a short attention span, being able to entertain themselves for a few minutes, or a bit longer if working on an activity together with a parent. With ADHD, their attention wanes even faster and is often limited to only certain favorite activities—examples being watching videos, wrestling and playing at a playground. What this means is that conversations are interrupted by any distracting sound or sight.

Toddlers with ADHD have trouble paying attention, especially to details. Being easily distracted, they make careless mistakes, forget and lose things, and fail to complete tasks. They also have trouble listening, following through and obeying instructions from adults. Due to this limited span of attention, many children suffering from ADHD avoid or are reluctant to engage in tasks that require ongoing or sustained mental effort.


Known for being very active, toddlers spend a lot of time doing things without thinking. At this stage, children with ADHD can be incredibly hyperactive. And just as hyperactivity is magnified in ADHD, so too is impulsiveness. This results in them being always on the go, unable to sit still and accident-prone. When excited, it can take hours to wind down.

Besides being fidgety, ADHD hyperactivity-impulsiveness can become especially problematic when a toddler first enters school or day care. They can be excessively talkative, have trouble playing quietly, struggle with polite behaviors such as waiting in line and taking turns, and often interrupt or intrude on others.

Hyperactivity also involves for ADHD toddlers having sleep problems. Being unable to sleep soundly through the night leads to them being more inattentive and irritable. This worsening sleep cycle thus exacerbates all of the child’s ADHD symptoms.

Violent Behavior

Out of recklessness and curiosity, hyperactive toddlers will break toys. According to Dr. Jim Chandler, a pediatric psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD, children with ADHD are “constantly breaking things,” sometimes deliberately and far more often than other children. When upset, they are likely to scream uncontrollably and hit others, including biting, pushing or pinching parents or caregivers when attempting to control or apprehend them.

Because every toddler is different, parents and teachers who best know the child can tell if his behavior is out of the ordinary. If you notice these warning signs, you may talk with your pediatrician about available treatment options.

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