Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Toddlers

Recognizing ADHD in toddlers

Does your child have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD? It’s not always easy to tell since toddlers tend to have difficulty paying attention in general.

Children in their toddler years typically are not diagnosed with ADHD, but many of their behaviors can lead some parents to wonder whether or not their child has it, or is at risk for developing it.

But ADHD is more than just typical toddler behavior. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the condition can extend beyond toddler age to affect teens and even adults. This is why it’s important to recognize signs of ADHD in early childhood.

Read on for a checklist of symptoms to watch out for.

Is it ADHD?

According to a 2019 study, some behaviors noted in toddlerhood could be related to the development of ADHD. However, considerably more research is needed.

According to the NIH, these are the three main signs of the condition in kids over age 3:

  • inattention
  • hyperactivity
  • impulsivity

These behaviors also occur in children without ADHD. Your child won’t be diagnosed with the condition unless symptoms continue for more than 6 months and affect their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities.

Great care needs to be taken in diagnosing a child under 5 with ADHD, particularly if medication is being considered. A diagnosis at this young age is best made by a child psychiatrist or a pediatrician specializing in behavior and development.

Many child psychiatrists will not make a diagnosis until the child has been in school. This is because a key criterion for ADHD is that the symptoms are present in two or more settings. For example, the child shows symptoms at home and at school, or with a parent and with friends or relatives.

Difficulty paying attention

There are a number of behaviors that can indicate your child has problems with attention, a key sign of ADHD. In school-age children these include:

  • inability to focus on one activity
  • trouble completing tasks before getting bored
  • difficulty listening as a result of distraction
  • problems following instructions and processing information

Note, however, that these behaviors can be normal in a toddler.

Fidgeting and squirming

In the past, ADHD was called attention deficit disorder (ADD).

As reported by the Mayo Clinic, the medical community now prefers to call the condition ADHD because the disorder often includes a component of hyperactivity and impulsivity. This is particularly true when diagnosed in preschool-aged children.

Signs of hyperactivity that may lead you to think that your toddler has ADHD include:

  • being overly fidgety and squirmy
  • having an inability to sit still for calm activities like eating and having books read to them
  • talking and making noise excessively
  • running from toy to toy, or constantly being in motion


Another telltale symptom of ADHD is impulsivity. Signs that your child has overly impulsive behaviors include:

  • displaying extreme impatience with others
  • refusing to wait their turn when playing with other children
  • interrupting when others are talking
  • blurting out comments at inappropriate times
  • having difficulty controlling their emotions
  • being prone to outbursts
  • intruding when others are playing, rather than asking first to join in

Again, these behaviors can be normal in toddlers. They would only be concerning if they’re extreme when compared to those of similarly aged children.