My child can’t seem to sit still. Could she be hyperactive? What can I do?
Toddlers are an active bunch. And because they have lots of energy to burn, many of them are just like your little one, unable to sit in one place for long. That’s why traditionally doctors reassure parents not to worry about hyperactivity at this age, and have rarely diagnosed children under the age of 5 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Recently, however, a spate of news articles and research studies has shown that more children this age are being diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medications such as Ritalin and Prozac to help them cope. But most experts continue to believe that it’s a mistake to prescribe medication for toddlers and preschoolers, especially as the side effects of these medications haven’t been well studied in young children.
If your toddler’s activity level is causing you concern, you may want to speak with your doctor about it. But the most important thing you can do is help her find as many outlets as possible for her abundant energy. Schedule frequent visits to the playground so she can run and climb to her heart’s content. If you’re indoors, turn on the radio or pop in a CD and get her dancing. You may want to join in the fray yourself (dancing, after all, increases the heart rate and keeps limbs loose, a plus for both adults and children). And if you can’t play with your child — for instance, when you’re cooking dinner — give her something to do instead of expecting her to sit quietly and wait for you. Loan her a few pots and pans and encourage her to use her toys as “ingredients” for a meal she cooks alongside you. The blocks can be mushrooms, and the puzzle pieces can be meat. Sing a song together as you cook, or catch up on your respective days.
You can help interest your child in sustained quiet activities by introducing them selectively and letting her participate at her own level. For example, if she doesn’t seem to enjoy sitting on your lap to listen to a story, let her sit on the floor or wander around the room. If you add a lot of enthusiasm to your reading — funny voices and animal sounds are big attention-getters — she’ll be hooked and will pay more attention.
Rhythm is a great outlet; if you can stand the noise, encourage her to pound on drums or shake a pair of maracas. Musical instruments help focus her energy on one activity, while allowing her to play vigorously and work out her emotions. And remember, your child is more likely to play with her toys if you play with her. If she’s under 2, she’ll rarely play for long on her own.
Finally, limit the amount of time you ask her to sit still. If it’s important to you that she sit still at dinnertime, then get her involved in something physical before dinner so she’ll be ready for some quiet time. And if five minutes is her limit for staying in her chair, praise her for her good mealtime behavior and let her go.