Child Hyperactivity: What it is, causes and how does education play a role?
Sometimes we find “unruly” and restless children in the classroom, whose grades keep getting worse and disrupt the class any chance they get. They can’t adapt to their group adequately, nor do they make friends easily. At home, they are undisciplined children, who ignore their parents’ rules and seem to always be distracted. What is behind these cases? Indiscipline or hyperactivity? How should we deal with them? A complete guide to child hyperactivity: what it is, characteristics of hyperactive children, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and education, etc.
What is Child Hyperactivity?
Child hyperactivity is a behavioral disorder characterized mainly by the presence of restless behaviors and a noticeable lack of attention. It manifests itself through automatic, non-adaptive behaviors, with important implications in different areas of the child’s life.
Child hyperactivity is characterized by a child excessive spontaneous actions, which don’t go unnoticed. They find it especially difficult to follow instructions or postpone inappropriate behavior. Actions that involve sustained attention, focus and a calm predisposition can generate tension and anxiety for them.
Children’s routines require for them to be calm at different times of the day. They have different commitments from an early age and the organization of our educational system often imposes demands that are not adapted to their needs.
On the other hand, families with hyperactive children are exhausted by their tireless interventions. It is at this point, when the problem becomes complicated, affecting the behavior of the child severely.
Characteristics of Child Hyperactivity
Not all children with hyperactivity have the same characteristics. We must not forget that it is fundamental to approach each case in an individualized way, in order to offer support adapted to their needs. However, there are several common features in most cases. What are the characteristics of child hyperactivity?
- Hyperactive children often find their attention impaired. They are usually distracted by irrelevant stimuli and find it difficult to maintain attention in activities that require a moderate attentional effort.
- Hyperactive children are quite impulsive, find it difficult to control their interactions and adapt them to different contexts. They often respond fleetingly, before reflecting and feel a need to share their first thoughts aloud. They are impatient and cause continuous interruptions.
- Their restlessness and lack of attention seriously affect the academic environment, and sometimes also their personal relationships. This has a major impact on self-esteem. Hyperactive children often develop low self-esteem by being unable to act like their peers.
- Hyperactive children show excessive motor activity. They engage in unplanned movements, which they can’t control even though they are asked to do so.
What are the causes of child hyperactivity?
One of the most commonly addressed causes is attention deficit disorder (ADD). Its organic origin is attributed to the unbalanced production of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and adrenaline. These two neurotransmitters generate dysfunction in the brain. When this disorder manifests itself along with hyperactive behaviors we talk about ADHD, attention deficit, and hyperactivity disorder.
However, there are multiple non-scientific causes that seem to generate child hyper active behaviors. An inadequate educational style from parents or primary caregivers can have serious consequences on the child’s behavior. Generally, children naturally manifest some “hyperactivity” compared to adults. Parents should channel this concern, help them mature and forge their own personality. However, they should not forget that they are children and their excitement to experience and to know the world is not only normal, but also very positive. Educational styles that might cause child hyperactivity or might favor the development of an overactive personality:
- Parents with an authoritarian educational style impose rigid and unjustified rules. When these are not carried out, they often resort to punishment, not dialogue. They show a little love, which usually deteriorates the family affectional bond. Children with authoritarian parents don’t know exactly the reasons why they have to behave in one way or another but live intimidated by the possible consequences of their actions. They are usually obedient and disciplined and respect the limits imposed on them. However, in the long run, the pressure they have endured during their development can affect their personality, making them defensive or hyperactive.
- In a permissive educational style, parents are not as present in their children’s education. They pay little attention or even tend to delegate their parental role to other people. As a result, children don’t acquire a clear pattern of behavior. They are agitated at new situations since they have no one to go to learn how to face them. The lack of limits creates in them insecurity and a deficit in their ability to anticipate the consequences of their actions. In addition, the strong affective deficiencies produced by permissive education generate a great need to constantly look for other people’s attention. They intensify their interactions and behaviors to get noticed, thus developing hyper active behaviors that seek admiration and claim the attention of those around them.
- Finally, we find the overprotective educational style. Parents who practice this type of education do manifest a high level of affection, however, rules and limits are not quite clear. This parental role can generate frustration and insecurity. In their eagerness to protect their children from any possible threat, they make it impossible for the children to develop adequate autonomy. These children are not accustomed to doing anything for themselves. They are always clothed by their parents and every problem they have is decided and resolved by their parents. This makes the child restless, hyperactive, insecure and uncomfortable in situations where the parents are not there.
Childhood hyperactivity: Diagnosis
The diagnosis of child hyperactivity is not easy. Many developmental stages of childhood are characterized by high energy and natural nervousness. New situations cause agitation in children and in education children are currently subjected to excessive hours of targeted activities that leave little time for free play.
For a correct diagnosis of child hyperactivity, a clinical evaluation will always be necessary in order to recognize this disorder and establish appropriate treatment and follow-up. In addition to the evaluation of the patient by the specialist, parents, siblings, and teachers help will be fundamental. They can provide very useful information about the routines and habitual behavior of the child.
Currently, there are also professional programs that allow an online cognitive assessment. CogniFit is a neuroscientific tool that measures many of our cognitive processes by playing different brain games. This tool offers on its website a computerized battery to assess ADHD whose use allows professionals to perform comprehensive assessments of children with ADHD symptoms and even see which cognitive areas are being affected by this disorder.
Treatment for Child Hyperactivity
There are different ways to treat a case of child hyperactivity. Psychological therapy is essential. Hyperactive children have low self-esteem and suffer from high levels of frustration. In addition, their lack of attention and their hyper activity disrupts their social relationships, family, and academic performance. There are multiple therapies and specialized groups that address each of the difficulties associated with child hyperactivity. Cognifit also offers a program of cognitive stimulation for children with ADHD. It is a set of activities and exercises to work attention, planning, self-control (inhibition), etc.
Whenever the doctor considers it necessary medicines can also be used to help. There are drugs capable of reducing overactive motor activity and improving attentional abilities. These treatments must have a rigorous monitoring for side effects.
Educational support is essential for hyperactive children since they have difficulty adapting to schools. It is highly necessary that professionals adapt their educational methods and strategies to these children. That way, the child has different aids and every professional involved in the treatment is working together and coordinated.
Education and child hyperactivity
As we have already mentioned, that the parents’ or caregivers’ role is fundamental for the correct evolution of their abilities. Parents who exercise a democratic educational style have established appropriate communication strategies with their children. They have clear and established rules which were discussed and justified. They are understanding, accessible and affectionate. Parents with this role don’t confuse their child’s shortcomings with rebellion or disobedience or confuse it with their children being disrespectful.
Understanding should be the main task of parents with a child with hyperactivity. We must understand behind the behavior there is a lack of something so try not to force children to change their behavior in a radical way. No parent or educational professional tries to force a child with autism to relate to their peers as children do without this disorder. So, why do we make a child with hyperactivity not to get up in class after being still for two hours? Why do we insist they have the same level of attention as other individuals without attentional deficiencies?
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”- Albert Einstein
Hyperactive children don’t intentionally seek to cause distractions or fuss, although they have a natural tendency to cause revolution and disorder. It is necessary for parents and everyone who interacts with them to fully understand their limitations and help them. Parents should also work their frustration levels, encouraging their children, as it is not always easy to deal day after day with child hyperactivity.
There are, in addition to the different treatments, many advantageous activities that will improve child hyperactivity. For example, practicing a sport regularly helps them channel their energy levels.
Thanks so much for reading. If you have any doubts about child hyperactivity, you can ask me below. We also encourage you to share your case or let us know your opinion.
This article is originally in Spanish written by Concha Gisbert Hortelano, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.