Why Is My Child So Hyper? ADHD vs. High Energy

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Many children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are very energetic. However, high energy alone is not enough to warrant a diagnosis.

Children with some forms of ADHD are not high-energy at all. Primarily inattentive type ADHD, historically known as ADD, may manifest itself in low energy combined with inattentiveness and other symptoms.

So when might a child with lots of energy be diagnosed with ADHD? To qualify for the diagnosis, a child must have a chronic, pervasive problem with their ability to regulate activity level and impairment in their ability to inhibit and control impulses.

Impairment of functioning or learning is key to differentiating ADHD from normal activity. If a child has high energy but is able to behave and perform well at school, they likely do not have ADHD.

Signs of ADHD

Hyperactivity and the other primary characteristics of impulsivity, and inattention are just the tip of the iceberg for kids who have ADHD. There can be additional traits that may not be as obvious. For example, some signs of ADHD impact the following areas of development:

Information Processing

Children with ADHD often have difficulty processing information. With the hyperactive example, it may be that the individual has trouble slowing down enough to process information accurately. This can create problems in a classroom setting where students are expected to quickly and accurately make sense of and respond to instruction.

Emotional Regulation

Children with ADHD become frustrated and overwhelmed very easily and have trouble regulating their emotions. These symptoms can interfere with social relationships, leading to a sense of isolation and lowered self-esteem

Executive Function

Children with ADHD usually struggle with executive function issues like organizing, planning, prioritizing, paying attention and remembering details. These issues can become problematic in a range of settings. Even in after-school sports, team members are expected to come prepared, remember what they were taught, and show up on time.


Children with ADHD also tend to be less mature developmentally than their same-age peers. Thus, an 11-year-old with ADHD may think and behave more like a young child than like a rising teenager.

This means that even as teens, kids with ADHD may lack the judgment they need to make good choices about friendships, risk-taking, and potentially harmful activities.

Distinguishing ADHD From High Energy

If your child is energetic and finds it hard to sit still, they may be displaying some of the signs of ADHD. But if they are also able to control their impulses and emotions, pay attention, and respond appropriately in school and at home, they are probably just an energetic individual, and not affected by ADHD.

  • Unable to sit still

  • Impulsive

  • Difficulty controlling emotions

  • Trouble paying attention

High Energy Levels
  • Restless

  • Always busy

  • Able to manage impulses

  • Able to pay attention

While the core symptoms that define ADHD can include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention, not all kids (or adults) with ADHD will have these symptoms in the same way or to the same degree. You will undoubtedly see changes in how the characteristics manifest or present as they go through different stages of life.

Other Reasons Your Child Might Be Hyperactive

ADHD might explain why your child is so hyperactive, but there are also other reasons why your child might be experiencing very high energy levels. Some other potential causes include:

  • Mental health conditions: Some mental health conditions can affect activity and energy levels, including anxiety and bipolar disorder.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions can also affect energy levels, including hyperthyroidism and nervous system disorders.
  • Lack of activity: Insufficient physical activity can also lead to feelings of restlessness and high energy. 
  • Stress: Kids may also experience hyperactivity as a response to stress.
  • Tiredness: Sometimes, kids may experience paradoxical bursts of high energy levels when tired. Kids with ADHD may also experience sleeping difficulties and fatigue, making regulating their emotions and behaviors more challenging.

If your child is struggling with hyperactivity, talk to their doctor. Your child's pediatrician can evaluate their symptoms, rule out other conditions, make a diagnosis, and recommend treatments and coping strategies that can help.

How to Help Kids Deal With High Energy

Whether your child is experiencing hyperactivity stemming from ADHD or has very high energy levels, there are several strategies you can use to help them cope. 

  • Help kids know what is expected of them: Giving kids a sense of structure can help them better understand expectations and what they need to do at specific times throughout the day.
  • Reduce distractions: Children who are hyperactive or high energy have a more challenging time staying on task, so reducing opportunities to get distracted can help improve their focus.
  • Let them play: Ensure your child has plenty of opportunities to engage in physically active play. This can include time outdoors, but you might also consider signing them up for other activities, including sports teams.
  • Limit sugar and caffeine: Excess sugar and caffeine can exacerbate high energy levels, but may also interfere with sleep. Limiting these substance may help your child better manage their behavior.
  • Offer reinforcement: Praise your child when they stay focused, works toward a goal, or finishes a task. 

A Word From Verywell

For a child with ADHD, there is much more involved than simply being active and full of energy. Any time you have concerns about your child's development, it's always a good idea to check in with your pediatrician.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind 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.
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  2. Lugo-candelas C, Flegenheimer C, Mcdermott JM, Harvey E. Emotional Understanding, Reactivity, and Regulation in Young Children with ADHD Symptoms. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2017;45(7):1297-1310. doi:10.1007/s10802-016-0244-7

  3. Pineda-alhucema W, Aristizabal E, Escudero-cabarcas J, Acosta-lópez JE, Vélez JI. Executive function and theory of mind in children with adhd: a systematic review. Neuropsychol Rev. 2018;28(3):341-358. doi:10.1007/s11065-018-9381-9

  4. Humphreys KL, Tottenham N, Lee SS. Risky decision-making in children with and without ADHD: A prospective study. Child Neuropsychol. 2018;24(2):261-276. doi:10.1080/09297049.2016.1264578

  5. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Hyperthyroidism.

  6. US National Library of Medicine. Stresses in childhood.

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.