The Different Reasons Why Children Become Hyperactive

hyperactive child standing on arms of chair in living room
mother image / Taxi / Getty Images

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 attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But that's not the only reason why a child may be hyperactive.

How to Recognize ADHD

Approximately 9% 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. Hyperactivity-related symptoms of ADHD described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) include:

  • Difficulty sitting still; continually squirming and moving feet and hands, or standing up and moving when others are seated
  • Running or climbing at inappropriate times
  • Rarely taking part in play activities quietly
  • Talking constantly, which can cause problems at school and in social settings
  • Difficulty taking turns
  • interrupting other people

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. If ADHD is diagnosed, there is treatment available (which may or may not include medication).

Non-ADHD Causes of Hyperactivity

Not every busy, wiggly child has ADHD. Sometimes, other causes underlie a child's high activity level.

Stress

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 too.

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.

Medical Conditions

There are some physical health problems that cause hyperactivity. An overactive thyroid, for example, can cause a wide range of symptoms, including anxiety and 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 their 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, their body responds by making more cortisol and adrenaline so they can stay awake. As a result, they will have more energy.

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

A Word From Verywell

While it's normal for young children to have plenty of energy, hyperactivity can interfere with their lives. Kids need to be able to sit still long enough to learn, for example. But It's important to make sure you have realistic expectations of your child. Thinking your preschooler should play quietly in their room while you work from home could lead you to think your child is hyperactive when their behavior is actually developmentally appropriate.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and statistics about ADHD. Updated October 2019.

  2. US National Library of Medicine. Stresses in childhood. Updated June 2018.

  3. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Hyperthyroidism.

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

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

Additional Reading