We all know that toddlers can be a handful. They don’t pay attention, they flit from one activity to another, they’re always into everything, and they are often defiant and difficult. If an older child acted this way, you might suspect Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, more commonly known as ADHD. But what if your child is just two or three?
There is a growing trend to medicate very small children with drugs intended to moderate ADHD behavior. This trend is most pronounced in families of low income, in which the children receive Medicaid assistance. A recent report noted that 15,000 American toddlers are being medicated for ADHD.
But here’s the thing: these medications – most notably Ritalin – have not been proven safe or effective for children so young. In fact, ADHD cannot even be diagnosed in children younger than four, following guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So if your toddler seems out of control, what can you do?
First, assume that your child’s behavior is within normal ranges for her age. Little kids naturally push the limits because they aren’t really sure what the limits are. They also can’t very well control their impulses and manage their own behavior. So give your child some time to grow into better behavior.
Second, take the time to guide your toddler in developing what little self-control toddlers are capable of. Avoid giving in or using bribes to teach good behavior but also avoid being harsh. Remember that little kids don’t know what to do but need to be gently taught.
Third, give this time. Developing a fully-functioning, thoughtful, and self-disciplined human being doesn’t happen overnight. This development isn’t helped with medication. Remember that a toddler cannot be expected to act like an adult or even like a four-year-old.
Fourth, even if there is a family history of ADHD, be slow to engage in drug therapy. The best, most knowledgeable doctors will recommend behavior guidance at this age and will not jump to a diagnosis of ADHD with a child so young. You should do the same.
Finally, make certain your little one is getting enough sleep and is eating well. Sleep deprivation is a common cause of ADHD-like behavior and eating junk food, including caffeinated drinks and chocolate, affects behavior too.
There are no shortcuts to dealing with toddlers, no quick fix that will suddenly make your family life more serene. Raising children is hard work, requiring thoughtful parenting every day.
Give that to your very young child.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.