At multiple points in their young lives, children will find it hard to concentrate for prolonged periods of time. Sometimes they may not follow instructions, or they’ll struggle to control their emotions and behaviour. While all young children go through this socialisation process, it tends to settle down as they reach pre-school/school age. When children remain hard to settle and persistently find it difficult to concentrate, it may be derived from a disorder of brain function known as ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactive disorder. In Australia, an estimated one in 20 children live with the condition, and prevalence is higher in boys than in girls. ADHD is not a sign of low intelligence or poor parenting; it is a neurodevelopmental disorder, where the different parts of the brain don’t ‘talk’ to each other in a way that’s age-appropriate for a child. With time, most children grow out of ADHD and, with the right care, understanding and treatment, the condition can be successfully managed.

Signs of ADHD

Children with ADHD might be:

  • Inattentive – They may find it difficult to concentrate, follow instructions and focus on one task at a time.
  • Impulsive – They might act without thinking, lose control of their emotions easily, be accident prone and often talk over the top of others
  • Overactive – They may be constant ‘fidgeters’ who are often restless and find it very hard to sit quietly and be still.

These symptoms of ADHD can mean kids exhibit difficult behaviour that can cause parents to feel frustrated and stressed, and sometimes embarrassed.


While the exact causes of ADHD are not currently known, there is often a genetic link – meaning that ADHD may run in families. The current leading theory is the condition is an inherited neurodevelopmental disorder.

ADHD is not caused by parenting or a lack of limits being set on a child’s behaviour.

Diagnosis and treatment

Only trained and experienced health professionals can diagnose ADHD. There is no single test and it is not a straightforward condition to diagnose; a detailed assessment is needed. In most cases, children must be about five or older to be assessed for ADHD. Younger children may exhibit some behaviours that could be prescribed to ADHD but are in fact just working through their developmental stage at their own pace.

If you think your child may have ADHD

If your child is five or over and is showing signs of ADHD, talk to your GP. The doctor may be able to arrange a referral to a paediatrician or a child psychologist who will be able to undertake an assessment. 

Managing ADHD

If ADHD is diagnosed, you can work with health professionals to develop a behaviour management plan. This involves finding a balance between a target set of behaviours and what you can realistically expect.

A behaviour management plan might include:

  • Behaviour strategies to allow for sufficient sleep, healthy eating and plenty of physical activity to focus energy. This will include strategies for when your child is at school as well as at home.
  • Support for any other issues or problems your child may have in areas such as language, learning, movement and emotional development.
  • In some cases, medication.

A good plan needs to be developed with professional expertise and advice, and it must look at the ‘big picture’ of a child’s life, taking what suits them and their family into account.

If you have a partner, you both need to be consistent and committed to the plan, and to work together as a team. As a parent of a child with ADHD, you have a demanding role, and you need support and regular breaks to give you some rest and respite.

For more information and help, speak to a healthcare professional. Consider visiting the website of ADHD Australia, an independent, national body that represents the interests of people impacted by ADHD.