How to spot the signs of ADHD in toddlers

Outlining some common symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and how they can present in children.

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Update on national shortage of medication to manage ADHD symptoms.

Please be aware that there is a national shortage in the supply of medication that helps to manage ADHD symptoms. This is due to manufacturing issues and an increase in global demand for the medication.

This shortage means we cannot prescribe medication to new patients until stocks are available. If you are currently taking medication as part of your ADHD treatment plan, please contact your prescriber for further advice.

The signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in a child usually start to appear before the age of 6. ADHD symptoms can also be seen in toddlers, although it's not usually diagnosed in the UK before the age of 4 and medications are usually not used before the age of 6.

If you've noticed that your child’s activeness and impulsivity stand out in comparison to others their own age, it's important to take note, monitor their behaviour and gain access to support for your toddler if their actions are extreme and are affecting their activities and relationships.

What are the three main symptoms of ADHD?

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

A toddler struggling with ADHD may suffer from some or all of the three main symptoms of ADHD, however, they may present their symptoms in different ways. Some of the signs to look out for include:

Difficulties paying attention

  • Gets distracted easily
  • Has trouble completing tasks
  • Unable to concentrate on tasks or listen for very long
  • Avoids tasks that need concentration
  • Finds it difficult to follow instructions


  • Restlessness
  • Finds it difficult to settle down at mealtimes or naps
  • Talks and makes noises excessively
  • Appears as though they're constantly on the go
  • Runs and climbs excessively in comparison to other children


  • Extreme impatience
  • Gets into dangerous situations
  • Finds it difficult to wait their turn
  • Interrupts others in conversations
  • Difficulties controlling their emotions

Your childcare provider may have also raised concerns regarding your toddler’s disruptive behaviour, or your toddler may have even been suspended from their nursery or day care as a result.

It's important to note that most toddlers are incredibly active and find it difficult to pay attention, wait their turn or listen to instructions at times. Many children have phases of these behaviours which pass. For a diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, the behaviours must have been prolonged and consistent for at least 6 months and be present in more than one setting, for example at home and in nursery or preschool. If these actions seem to be more frequent or intense in your child than in others, this could be an indicator of ADHD.

What to do if you think your toddler is displaying symptoms of ADHD

If you're concerned that your toddler is showing symptoms of ADHD, you may want to book in a meeting with your child’s nursery or childcare provider to determine whether they are seeing similar behaviours.

It's also recommended that you speak to your doctor. During an initial consultation, you'll have the opportunity to talk about your toddler’s symptoms, when these symptoms first started, as well as when and where they occur.

A referral to an ADHD specialist can then be made. They'll be able to assess your toddler and at a young age they may recommend techniques to help their development in the areas you're concerned about. You can request to be referred to a private healthcare provider such as Priory. We have a team of specialist doctors across the UK that are highly experienced in assessing for ADHD and providing parents and their children with access to support and treatment.

You can also start your journey by seeking a psychiatrist’s opinion, or following up your initial visit to your GP with a psychiatrist appointment so that you're confident in the next steps that you take.

What to expect for a children's ADHD assessment

A series of assessments need to be made to determine whether or not a child has ADHD. These include the following:

  • A physical examination in order to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms. When a child has problems with sight, hearing or speech, they may display symptoms that are similar to those seen in children with ADHD. The doctor may also suggest that other psychological tests are carried out to rule out further conditions
  • A series of interviews with you to understand the symptoms, how severe they are, and when these symptoms occur
  • Interviews or reports from other professionals, carers or care providers to evaluate your child’s behaviour

To determine whether or not a child has ADHD, they must have six or more symptoms of inattentiveness, or six or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

They must also have been displaying the symptoms continuously for a minimum of 6 months, and in at least 2 different settings, such as at home and at nursery. The symptoms must also be having a significant impact on their social and educational levels, and must not be part be part of another disorder or condition.

ADHD support for children at Priory

There are safe and effective treatments available to families at Priory to help with the management of ADHD symptoms.

Our behaviour therapy can help a child to develop new sets of behaviours and new ways of expressing themselves. Family therapy can also be valuable and help the whole family unit come together to further understand the condition, helping you as parents to explore ways in which you can support your child to deal with symptoms of their condition.

Page clinically reviewed by Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg (MBBS, MRCPsych, MMedSci), Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Oxford

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