The Different Reasons Why Children Become Hyperactive

hyperactive child standing on arms of chair in living room
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While some kids are content coloring for hours or playing quietly with blocks for half the day, others can’t seem to sit still for two minutes. They’re fidgeting, jumping, bouncing, and literally climbing the walls most of the time.

Someone might be quick to suggest that an energetic child has ADHD. But that's not the only reason why a child may be hyperactive.

Common Reasons Why Children Are Hyperactive

If you've got a hyperactive child on your hands, here are some of the reasons your child may struggle to contain his wiggles:


Whether it’s permanent chaos or a short-term schedule change, children often become hyperactive when they're experiencing a stressful life event. Even positive changes, like having a new baby or moving to a better neighborhood can create a lot of stress for a child.

Before you decide your child couldn’t possibly be affected by financial problems or relationship issues, remember that kids pick up on their parents’ stress. If you’re stressed out, there’s a good chance your child is stressed out.

Make sure your child has a consistent and predictable routine. If you’re experiencing stressful life events, give your child extra reassurance and support.

Emotional or Mental Health Problems

Emotional issues often look like behavior disorders in children. A child with an anxiety disorder may struggle to sit still. Or one who has been traumatized by a scary event may not be able to concentrate.

If you suspect your child's hyperactivity may stem from an emotional issue, seek professional help. Treatment can reduce a wide range of symptoms, including hyperactivity.

Dietary Issues

While research shows sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity , some experts believe certain food additives make children hyperactive. A few studies found that preservatives and artificial colors increased hyperactivity in children.

If you think your child’s diet may play a role in his activity level, talk to your pediatrician. There are some diets that can help you discover food intolerances and sensitivities that may be exacerbating your child’s behavior.

Physical Health Problems

There are some physical health problems that cause hyperactivity. An overactive thyroid, for example, can cause a wide range of symptoms ranging from anxiety to hyperactivity. There are also other genetic issues that may lead to increased activity.

Talk to your pediatrician about your child’s symptoms. Keeping a detailed list of your concerns could help a doctor identify potential health problems that may be at the root of the issue.

Lack of Exercise

Children are supposed to be active and energetic. Without enough exercise, they will struggle to sit still.

Unfortunately, some hyperactive children get punished by losing their recess privileges at school. Not having an opportunity to run around and play makes hyperactivity worse.

Encourage your child to get frequent bouts of exercise every day. Playing on a playground, riding a bike, and running give your child an opportunity to channel his energy into productive activities.

Lack of Sleep

While adults tend to grow sluggish when they’re tired, children often become hyperactive. Whether it’s a missed nap or a late bedtime, a sleepy child may seem more animated than ever.

When a child doesn’t get enough rest, his body responds by making more cortisol and adrenaline so he can stay awake. As a result, he’ll have more energy.

Make sure your child is getting plenty of sleep. If you have difficulty ensuring he gets enough rest, talk to your pediatrician about strategies that could help.

How to Recognize ADHD

Sometimes, hyperactivity stems from ADHD.

Approximately nine percent of children have ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ADHD is a neurobiological condition that causes symptoms such as impulsivity, impaired focus, and increased activity.

Talk to your pediatrician if you think your child may have ADHD. While there isn’t a specific test for the condition, a pediatrician can conduct an assessment and refer your child for further evaluation if necessary.

Strategies to Address Hyperactivity

While it's normal for young children to have plenty of energy, hyperactivity can interfere with their lives in several ways.

Kids need to be able to sit still long enough to learn. And they also need to know how to interact socially with their peers in an appropriate manner.

It's important, however, to make sure you have age-appropriate expectations of your child. Expecting a toddler to sit still while you're dining for hours or thinking your preschooler should play quietly in his room while you work from home could lead you to think your child is hyperactive.

When your child is hyperactive, set clear limits. Say things like, "Use your walking feet in the grocery store," and "I need you to calm your body before we get into the car."

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Article Sources
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  1. US National Library of Medicine. Stresses in childhood. Updated June 2018.

  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Sugar: does it really cause hyperactivity?. August 2018.

  3. Arnold LE, Lofthouse N, Hurt E. Artificial food colors and attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms: conclusions to dye for. Neurotherapeutics. 2012;9(3):599-609.  doi:10.1007/s13311-012-0133-x

  4. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Hyperthyroidism.

  5. Barkley RA (Editor). Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Fourth Edition: A Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment. The Guilford Press. 2014.

  6. Stanford Children’s Health. Tips for better rest.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and statistics about ADHD. Updated October 2019.

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