Most kids have moments when they have excess energy. But how often do you have to tell your child to slow down, stop interrupting or stay still? Hyperactivity is a classic sign of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It can also occur with other conditions. Learn more about what might be behind your child’s overactivity, and ways you can help.
What You Might Be Seeing
The signs of hyperactivity are hard to miss. And they often prompt negative reactions from other people. Until you know the reason behind the behaviors, you may find yourself getting annoyed and thinking that your child is just acting out. But if your child has ADHD, his overactivity is caused by differences in how the brain works.
Here are some behaviors that are common with hyperactivity:
- Talks almost constantly and frequently interrupts others
- Moves from place to place quickly and often clumsily
- Keeps moving even when sitting down
- Bumps into things
- Fidgets and has to pick up everything and play with it
- Has trouble sitting still for meals and other quiet activities
What Can Cause Hyperactivity
ADHD is a frequent cause of hyperactivity in children, but it’s not the only possible cause. Other conditions can cause kids to move around and talk too much—just for different reasons. Here are some of the issues you may want to read up on and talk about with your child’s doctor.
ADHD: This brain-based condition often causes kids to move and talk nonstop. It’s actually the result of the brain’s “wiring” system working a little slower than is typical. Think of the game Red Light, Green Light. With ADHD the brain takes a bit longer to get started and “go.” But it also has trouble putting on the brakes to “stop.”
Being hyperactive doesn’t just mean zooming around the room. Kids may fidget or have extra movements even when doing little things like tying their shoes, writing or playing an instrument.
“Being hyperactive doesn’t just mean zooming around the room. Kids may fidget or have extra movements even when doing little things like tying their shoes, writing or playing an instrument.”
Kids with ADHD also tend to be impulsive and have trouble paying attention ADHD may look different at different ages. For example, a preschooler might be accident-prone while a grade-schooler may not be able to sit still long enough to finish his work.
Anxiety disorder: Anxiety can make kids restless and unable to focus. Those symptoms sometimes lead people to mistake it for ADHD. It’s not uncommon for a child to have both conditions at the same time, however.
Hyperthyroidism: Kids rarely have this condition. But when they do, it can cause them to fidget and lack focus. It also often involves eye issues like an irritation or bulging.
Inner-ear disorders: Kids with inner-ear problems are often hyperactive. These kids’ need for constant motion may be caused by their hearing and balance disorders.
Sensory processing issues: Kids with sensory processing issues can become hyperactive when they’re overstimulated or understimulated.
How You Can Get Answers
Getting to the bottom of your child’s hyperactivity is a process that may take a few steps. A good way to start is by observing your child and taking notes. Having these notes will be helpful when you talk to professionals about your concerns. And it may help you get answers more quickly.
Here’s what you can do to understand what’s behind your child’s hyperactivity.
Talk to your child’s teacher. Hyperactivity can affect learning. That’s why it’s a good idea to reach out to your child’s teacher. Together, you can talk about classroom strategies that can help, such as using a secret signal to cue your child to stay on task.
Look into an educational evaluation. If you think your child’s hyperactivity is affecting his learning, you or your child’s teacher can request that the school evaluate him. If the school agrees, you won’t have to pay for it.
Depending on the results, your child may be able to get services and supports to meet his needs. That might include things like taking breaks during tests or taking tests in a separate room, where there will be fewer distractions. The school would commit to providing these services in writing, through a 504 plan or an IEP. But the choice to pursue an evaluation is totally yours.
Talk to your child’s doctor. This is also a good place to start. Bring your notes with you to the visit, and share your concerns. The doctor may want to rule out hyperthyroidism and other possible medical causes of your child’s hyperactivity.
There are some questions you’re likely to be asked to get a better sense of what’s going on. They may include things like how long you’ve been seeing the behaviors, whether they’re getting worse and whether the teacher sees them, too. The doctor may also recommend a psychological evaluation to look at how your child thinks and to assess whether he has ADHD or anxiety, or both.
Talk to specialists. You may be referred to more than one specialist to get to the bottom of your child’s hyperactivity. An audiologist would look for hearing problems. A neurologist, psychiatrist or developmental behavioral pediatrician would look for brain-based medical issues including ADHD. And a psychiatrist or psychologist could diagnose anxiety disorders.
Professionals who can prescribe medications for these issues include your child’s doctor, a psychiatrist, a neurologist or a physician’s assistant.
See a private learning specialist. ADHD can have a big effect on your child’s learning. A psychologist can do an evaluation to see what the impact is and if any learning issues are at play. The tests are the same as what they use in a school evaluation. But you’ll have to pay for this testing since it’s done privately.
Tutors can help kids develop strategies to keep ADHD from getting in the way of their learning. But tutors don’t perform formal evaluations.
What You Can Do Now
Even if you don’t get an evaluation, there are many things you can do to find support. There are also strategies you can try to help your child manage his behavior. Just remember to pace yourself. Trying too many at once can make it hard to figure out which ones are working the best for your child and for you. Here are some suggestions:
- Learn as much as you can. Understanding your child’s hyperactivity is the first step to getting him the help he needs. The more you know, the better able you’ll be to find ways to help him gain self-control skills.
- Observe and take notes. By observing your child’s behavior, you may be able to spot patterns and triggers. Maybe his activity level rises as the night wears on. Or perhaps he has a hard time falling asleep and is overtired. Recognizing the trigger allows you to try different strategies like changing his bedtime routine to have more quiet time and get a full night’s sleep.
- Provide things to fidget with. Let your child chew gum, carry a stress ball or have some other object to fiddle with. It can help direct some of the overactivity and cut down on your child picking up and playing with other items.
- Consider martial arts or yoga classes. Physical activities give your child an outlet for his energy. These can also teach your child to be aware of his movements and be in control of his body.
- Try different strategies. For new ideas on dealing with behavior issues, check out the expert advice in Parenting Coach. You may find helpful tips for handling your energetic child.
- Connect with other parents. Knowing you’re not the only family out there dealing with hyperactivity can make a big difference. Connect with parents in similar situations and share information and advice. It can be a great source of support.
Understanding more about what’s going on with your child can help you start to get out in front of his behavior issue rather than always reacting to it. Looking at your child’s strengths, finding support for yourself and changing things a little at a time can make both of you feel more confident and in control.