Lots of kids are very active. But when it’s time to stop and settle down, they typically manage to put on the brakes. They might kick a ball around one minute and sit quietly with a book five minutes later.
But some kids just can’t keep still. They’re forever fidgeting, grabbing things, talking, or running even after they’re told to stop. They’re more than just active. Experts would describe them as hyperactive.
Kids don’t act like this on purpose. They have a need to keep moving and haven’t yet developed the skills to manage it.
Some people see hyperactive kids and make judgments. They might think it’s a discipline problem or that a child’s just being rude. They might also make comments that leave kids (or you) feeling bad and ashamed.
If your child is in constant motion, you may wonder about the behavior you’re seeing. Learn more about hyperactivity in kids.
Hyperactive behavior you might be seeing
What is hyperactivity? Some people think it’s just kids racing around all the time. But there’s much more to it.
Hyperactivity is constantly being active in ways that aren’t appropriate for the time or setting. It’s the constant part that makes the big difference. If it happened once or twice, nobody would think much of it.
Here are a few examples of what hyperactive kids might frequently do:
Run and shout when playing, even if they’re indoors
Stand up in the middle of class and walk around while the teacher talks
Move so fast they bump into people and things
Play too roughly and accidentally hurt other kids or themselves
Hyperactivity can look different at different ages, and it can vary from child to child. Here are some of the behaviors you might see, beyond running and jumping around:
Seems to talk constantly
Frequently interrupts others
Moves from place to place quickly and often clumsily
Keeps moving even when sitting down
Bumps into things
Fidgets and has an urge to pick up everything and play with it
Has trouble sitting still for meals and other quiet activities
What can cause hyperactivity
Hyperactivity isn’t the same thing as being very active. It’s constant and beyond kids’ control. Kids aren’t hyperactive because of a lack of discipline or because they’re defiant. In fact, kids who are overactive often want to settle down so it’s easier to join in what’s going on. It can be really frustrating to have trouble doing what they know is expected of them.
One thing to consider with hyperactivity is age. It takes time for kids to develop the skills they need to keep their behavior in check. Also, kids don’t all develop at the same rate. One child might have good self-control at age 4 while it takes another child until age 6.
But there comes a point where most kids in an age group have similar self-regulation skills. That’s when it’s often clearer if kids are lagging.
One of the main causes of hyperactivity is ADHD, a common condition that results from differences in the brain.
Hyperactivity is a core symptom of ADHD. ADHD doesn’t go away as kids get older, but the hyperactivity piece often does, or it becomes less extreme. That often happens in adolescence. (Read more about hyperactivity in teens.)
There are also certain medical and mental health conditions that can cause hyperactive behavior. Thyroid issues, lack of sleep, anxiety, and mental distress related to things like abuse can all lead to hyperactivity. Starting puberty can cause kids to be hyperactive, too.
What can help with hyperactivity
Give your child plenty of ways to stay active through games, sports, physical chores, and activities. You can even try apps to help kids build self-control. (Check out apps for younger kids and for teens and tweens.)
If settling down for homework or dinner is a trouble spot, find a repetitive activity for your child to do for five to 10 minutes before starting. Word searches, crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, and card games are good for this.
And if you think your child might have ADHD, there are steps you can take to find out. A good first step is to get to know other signs of ADHD, and take notes on what you see.
Look for patterns in your child’s behavior. When does your child seem most hyperactive? What does the hyperactivity look like? For instance, maybe it shows up as restlessness, fidgeting, or constant talking. Knowing these patterns will help you to be specific if you talk to your child’s health care provider or teacher.
Your child’s teacher is a great source for gathering information. Connect with the teacher to get a sense of what’s happening in the classroom. You can also find out if the teacher has any tips you can try at home. For instance, maybe the teacher offers “brain breaks” during class or lets your child use a fidget.
Hyperactivity can be hard on the whole family. One important thing you can do is to help your child not feel bad or ashamed. Assure your child that hyperactivity is common, and that it will get better with time and support.