Temperament and Parenting

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Inattentiveness

BEHAVIOR - Getting through the Day with a Restless Young Child

By Kate Andersen, M.Ed.

This article is about the child who is restless by temperament, who has an inborn or biological tendency to be this way. Even when receiving a normal amount of stimulation from the environment (adequate play materials, companionship, and exposure to new experiences) some children are by nature restless and stimulation-seeking. These children's difficulties in settling into constructive activities for long and difficulties in getting satisfaction from them ("Bored already? But it's a brand-new toy!") can be very wearing for caregivers.

What make some young children so restless?

The restless young child is often a child with a short attention span and an insatiability that is hard to put your finger on. Some of these children seem very active, but perhaps it is just that they don't settle into one thing very long, and so change what they are doing a lot. They may then seem very 'busy'.

The difficulty sticking to play and tasks manifests itself differently in different children. Some children are decidedly driven and excitable. Others are whiny and demanding. Some don't pester adults for attention as much as they 'bug' their siblings or companions. Of course, there are other reasons for children to engage in such behavior, but this type of behavior is commonly a signal of the restless, inattentive child's difficulty in settling into play and tasks. These children sometimes seem to get into more than their share of mischief!

Have medical causes of restlessness been ruled out?

Sleep disorders and poor quality of sleep caused by breathing problems (enlarged adenoids or asthma, for example) can contribute to restlessness. Food and inhalant sensitivities and some additives may affect a few children this way. Caffeine -- found in tea, coffee, chocolate and cola drinks -- may make children restless. Many allergy and asthma medications can make children 'hyper'. A hearing problem can cause restlessness. Thyroid problems are rare but should be ruled out.

Emotional problems

Anxiety and stress can cause restlessness in children (and adults!) If your child has suddenly become restless, after the birth of a sibling, a move, a marital separation, getting a new teacher, or some other change, consider the possibility that the stress is causing the problem.

Learning problems

Is your child restless because he or she can't do the tasks at day care, preschool or kindergarten? Does your child have trouble understanding language or expressing himself?