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Is my child overactive?

All young children are active, and it’s normal for them to have lots of energy.

Child banging on drums.
The challenge is to recognise the difference between normal behaviour problems and ADHD.

Children should be active on a daily basis; getting lots of exercise is good for their physical and mental health and it’s fun.

Some children suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is what used to be known as 'hyperactivity'.

A lot of children who have behaviour problems and difficulty concentrating are not overactive, or they may be suffering from only a mild form of hyperactivity. The challenge for parents and health professionals is to recognise the difference between normal behaviour problems and ADHD symptoms, which require early treatment.

Routine can help if your child is restless or difficult.

Coping tips

Below are some tips on coping with an overactive child.

  • Keep to a daily routine. Routine can help if your child is restless or difficult. It can also help you to stay calm and cope with the strain.
  • Dedicate time to your child. Because your child may be demanding your attention for most of the day (and sometimes the night too), you’ll often have to say no to them. That will be easier to do and easier for your child to accept if there's a time each day when you give them all your attention.
  • Avoid difficult situations. For example, keep shopping trips short, try making a list before you go.
  • Try to go out every day. Go to a park, playground or other safe, open space where your child can run around and use up energy.
  • Avoid giving your child cola drinks, tea and coffee. These all contain caffeine, which can make children hyperactive. Sugar can have a similar effect.
  • Set small goals. Help your child to sit still or be controlled. Encourage them to concentrate for a very short time, then gradually build up. Remember, you can’t transform your child’s behaviour overnight.

More information

You can also get information from: 

  • your doctor
  • your local health district services including, community health centres or specialist child and adolescent mental health services (in hours).
  • other specialists who work with children and adolescents such as paediatricians, child psychologists and school counsellors.

Sources: Department of Health and Ageing, Cth (Challenging behaviours - where to get help), NHS Choices, UK (Is my child overactive?)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013