How to Handle a Hyperactive Child

A hyperactive child shows an abnor­mally high level of activity, combined with a short attention span, a low level of concentration, and a superabundance of impulsive and reckless behavior.

Perception of the child’s behavior is a major factor to be considered in the identification of hyperactivity. Parents who are themselves quiet, withdrawn, and bookish may describe their child as hyperactive if she doesn’t sit down peacefully to play with her building blocks for thirty minutes at a time. Outgoing parents who believe children should be allowed to express themselves freely and energetically are likely to be more tolerant of their child’s very active behavior.

One of the difficulties in identifying hyperactivity is that young children vary considerably in their activity levels. Even dur­ing pregnancy, one woman may find her baby moves infrequent­ly, while another at the same stage of pregnancy may find that hers kicks and wriggles most of the time. These differences in activity rates continue after birth. Babies who are genuinely hyper­active are noticeably different from other children in terms of their general day-to-day behavior. For instance, a hyperactive baby often doesn’t like being cuddled, and will struggle in its mother’s arms. These babies seem uncomfortable and miserable, as though nothing is right for them. Often these babies are poor sleepers and fussy eaters, and they are very difficult and demanding to care for. Researchers have also found other features associated with hyper­activity. For instance, during pregnancy, the mother is more like­ly to have had high blood pressure and to have experienced vagi­nal bleeding. Whereas premature delivery occurs in up to 15 per­cent of the population, up to 25 percent of hyperactive children are premature. In the period immediately following delivery, a hyperactive child is more likely to have a breathing difficulty.

Whatever the complicating factors in identifying hyperac­tivity, a significant number of very active children do cause seri­ous problems for their parents. It doesn’t really matter whether these children are called “hyperactive.” Several possible causes of hyperactivity have been suggested (each with its own form of treatment):

  • Diet. One suggestion is that hyperactivity is caused by a child’s diet, and that if an overactive, disruptive child eats only nat­ural foods, without any additives, then her behavior will improve. Some parents find this works. Others do not. Your pediatrician will supply you with an additive-free diet sheet.
  • Discipline. Another theory is that hyperactivity is caused by the way parents behave toward their child. Every child needs structure and predictability in her home life, and this is usually achieved by having consistent discipline. Parents of a hyperactive child often let her break rules without rep­rimand, simply because they are too tired to challenge her. The child does need a structured form of discipline.
  • Brain damage. Some doctors claim that hyperactivity is caused by “minimal brain damage,” which interferes with the child’s behavior. This explanation derives from the medical discovery that a few hyperactive children do have identifiable brain damage. However, the existence of mini­mal brain damage is impossible to verify using contempo­rary neurological tests, and consequently many profession­als reject it completely.
  • Drug abuse during pregnancy. Children born to cocaine- or crack-addicted mothers show a higher level of hyperactivity.

Explanations that attribute hyperactivity to a physical cause have led to the development of drug treatment. A number of stimulant drugs can have a temporary calming effect on a hyperactive child, but they often have worrying side effects, including lethargy and appetite loss. Few parents are happy at the thought of their young child taking drugs. This type of treatment remains controversial.

Research also suggests that high lead levels in the atmos­phere—from gasoline fumes—could cause hyperactivity. Investigators claim to have found a link between blood lead level and hyperactive behavior, and conclude that lead at low levels of exposure probably has a small but harmful effect on a child’s behavior.

Parents of hyperactive children have a tough time, and should be offered support wherever possible. A psychological approach—such as providing a structured and consistent form of discipline at home—gives parents an active role in managing their child’s behavior, and is usually the first suggestion offered. Such a management system is not guaranteed to alter the behavior of every hyperactive child, but it can have a positive effect. It offers the added benefit of making parents feel that they are beginning to have some control over their child again. This in itself can raise their self-confidence, and consequently decrease family tension. It’s encouraging to know that what­ever causes hyperactivity, the problem tends to fade as a child reaches adolescence. In most instances, a previously unman­ageable child becomes more settled during the teenage years.

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Personality


About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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