ADHD Toddlers


When a child has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) at an early age, parent and family member support tends to be less complicated. The young child has not had any opportunity to develop negative coping mechanisms and the adults that surround the ADHD toddler are usually highly motivated to help them.

Toddlers are small in size and cute by nature. We often indulge toddlers and toddlers with ADHD in allowing certain behaviors that we would be less likely to tolerate in an older child. Unfortunately, the efforts of most supportive friends and family members are usually too focused on correcting “bad behavior”. Parents try to make the young child with ADHD “normal”.

What is needed is a celebration of the gifts of the unique learner. When parents use strategies to improve healthy and coherent behavior without pressuring the child to become someone that they just aren’t, the child with ADHD can make tremendous progress.

Consider the following scenario that took place in my occupational clinic:

The first time I saw Ranisha, she ran through the hall and banged open the door to the children’s therapy room. She began to pick up toys and throw them down, black curls bouncing as she moved swiftly from object to object. Her mother moved behind her like a late arriving vacuum, scolding and scooping up items to return them to their regular place. Ranisha’s chaotic behavior was helping me know exactly what the problem was. Her mother, however, was mortified and looked near tears.

As a toddler, Ranisha was still too young to realize that she was behaving differently from those around her. She hadn’t yet learned any negative coping strategies. Ranisha was still trying to figure out how to live in her skin. Her parents provided a supportive learning environment at home. When out in the community, however, they expect good behavior.

This lack of connection between one’s own behavior and the expectations of complex social situations is not uncommon. It can cause great difficulty for the child with ADHD as they try to adapt to a more mature world. The expectations for behavior can collide with a unique learner’s need to process information in their own unique way.

During Ranisha’s second appointment she ran into the clinic in such a way that the door hit the wall in a loud manner. She ran through the lobby and up the stairs to the upstairs offices. Her mother was shocked and expressed verbal outrage at her daughter for these behaviors. My interpretation was more inclined to support Ranisha in her desire to understand the exact physical layout of the two-story clinic. Perhaps Ranisha was attempting to relieve any potential fears or anxieties regarding the physical space that she had come to visit once again. Her mother felt she was old enough to “show proper manners”.

From my perspective, Ranisha was familiarizing herself with the clinical environment, the toys and the activities, the personnel, and the new sounds and smells. Ranisha appeared to be working very hard to process the varied stimulation offered in this new space with new people.

Ranisha and I toured through the clinic, upstairs and downstairs, the gym, the pediatric room, and all the individual treatment rooms. Together, we demystified the space that Ranisha would come to visit on a regular basis. Ranisha was reoriented to the pediatric room with explanations for each item, such as “These are the dolls you played with,” “These are the balls that ended up over here,” and “This is the trampoline that you sat on”. The goal was to help Ranisha feel comfortable with her physical space.

This example provided by Ranisha, a youngster with ADHD, helps illustrate the importance of understanding what motivates the toddler’s behavior. When you curb behavior with time-outs and removal of privileges you may succeed in momentary compliance, but the source of the problem is missed. Ranisha needed reassurance of her surroundings. Once the unfamiliar place became familiar to her, she was able to settle down and interact in a happy and functional manner.

Sometimes we need to look beyond the “manners police” to truly understand and to truly help the toddler with ADHD.


Can your toddler with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) improve their chances for developing good learning skills?

Yes! In fact, it is easier, and more fun, than you think. You can improve your child’s learning readiness in ways that feel like play.

Let’s start with a better understanding of what learning readiness is. It isn’t about how fast they can finish a timed math quiz, nor how neatly they print. Learning readiness is a group of skills and behaviors that can only occur after foundational developmental abilities are in place.

Students who are ready to learn know how to take in and make sense of the information around them. They know how to recognize patterns. They can consider different concepts before selecting the most likely. Although this type of problem solving is needed for doing arithmetic, reading, and writing, these skills develop outside the classroom at a much younger age.

Learning readiness occurs when the correct developmental building blocks fall into place. Here are three ways to use play to improve your ADHD child’s learning readiness:

Number 1- Try One More Time

The first area to focus on is improving your child’s ability to practice “try one more time” strategies.

Start by stretching your child’s attention span by having them “hang in there” a little longer. Play with that toy a little longer, work on solving that wooden puzzle just a moment longer, read a little longer, and encourage them to “stick with” that chore you assigned them (carrying Dad’s socks to Dad’s bedside table), just a little longer.

Don’t make a big explanation, we want children to experience their ability to function improve. Make this goal of yours, designed to help your child, a secret. Without talking about it, start role modeling this behavior yourself when you’re playing together.

If you’re playing a game with toy cars, stretch out the game a little longer by adding a new and creative dimension. Perhaps enjoy having the cars drive to a pretend parking lot at the pretend zoo.

If your child is reading a story, have him or her look at the pictures just a little longer. Ask your child to describe all the things that are red in the picture or all the things that make a sound.

Invent a new way of playing with the backyard bowling set and teach your child to stretch their imagination.

Teaching your toddler with ADHD to stretch their imagination to “play longer” will help improve attention span for later academic activities.

Look for opportunities for your child to “think a little more” or “try one more time.” Encourage and support their effort. Help your child to enjoy feeling their mind successfully wrap around a problem.

Teaching your child to “hang in there”, problem solve and execute one more attempt can all help keep the mind engaged in a productive manner. That may be trying one more time to find the lost sock or problem-solve how to get that bicycle wheel back onto the bike frame. It could be figuring out the best solution to the riddle of the day or finishing their chore independently.

We want children to enjoy using their minds and develop “try one more time…” strategies. They will need them at school as well as for the rest of their lives.

Number 2- Improve Spatial Awareness

Being ready to read, write, and perform arithmetic requires good spatial awareness. If spatial awareness isn’t innate and automatic for the child, academics will be challenging.

This means that children must understand three dimensional space. They have to be able to navigate their physical body in, over, under, around and through. They need to experience their body in relationship to the objects around them.

Navigating through space seems simple to us because with just a quick glance we can easily see how to navigate to the restroom in a busy and unfamiliar restaurant. The visual sense of space develops after experiencing it physically. We may not remember learning this skill, but learn it we surely did.

Our children need to learn this skill too. They must learn the words to describe physical space and be able to separate themselves from that space.

The ability to separate themselves then allows them to learn to observe the objects, people, places, and things that are in the space around them. This in turn develops into the ability to visually judge space without having to physically move around the room.

Developing spatial awareness can be accomplished very well through games. Here are some examples of games that children love to play that also develop spatial awareness:

  • Simon Says
  • Hide and Seek
  • Red Light, Green Light
  • Chutes and Ladders (board game)
  • Obstacle courses
  • Treasure hunts

Your child will never know that you are really working on developing their learning readiness.

Number 3- Balance and Movement

The ability to physically experience the world around us relies on the sensory system that perceives movement in relationship to the space around us.

In many children with ADHD, the sensory system perceiving movement is disrupted. This can be a big reason for later academic struggles. It affects the ability to sit in a learning ready position. It impacts the student’s ability to look and listen. It distracts their focus at a subconscious level as their brain pays attention to information from the sensory system that inappropriately tells the child they might fall off the chair.

Outdoor play, exercise, sports, martial arts, yoga, dancing, and juggling all offer excellent opportunities for the movement and balance systems to stimulate and help facilitate brain functioning.

You can support your unique learner’s growth by embedding movement as a part of the fuel necessary to grow the brain. A more typical student may seem to respond well to practice, practice, practice. A unique learner seems to respond better to practice, movement, practice, movement.

It is imperative that the adult shift from being frustrated by the child to being fascinated. When this shift occurs, the adult views the child as capable of learning. They begin to see how best to teach and help them. The child’s brain can be helped to process information more smoothly. As a result, the child can function better.

The more you “strategically” play with your unique learner, the more improvement you will see in their learning readiness.

For more information regarding ADHD you can look through my blogs or purchase a copy of my book Unique Learner Solutions by clicking HERE!



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