A parent recently asked, “My son is 18 months old. He resists the structure of Gymboree class and prefers to run and climb. Is this the start of ADHD? Another parent inferred it might be… Should I be concerned?
No parent should have to worry that their child has ADHD at 18 months old. There is no way that a child so young could be diagnosed with this. Running and climbing aren’t signs of ADHD, they are signs of healthy motor drive and exploration. Perhaps classes like Gymboree aren’t for everyone. They are structured. Many boys prefer not to have adults impose program-like activities. They want – and need – free play.
I was fortunate to be trained by top clinicians in the country, and they cautioned not to go looking for ADHD symptoms in very young children – but to wait until 5 or 6, maybe 7 years old. The “symptoms” of ADHD are actually not symptoms, but normal behaviors all children do (especially active young boys). As long as a pediatrician or other experienced child development expert isn’t concerned, then parents need not worry.
Maybe we should be more concerned about gym classes for toddlers? Scheduling play. Being too involved in their movements and explorations. Nothing is generally wrong with that as long as free play is still available. Supervise for safety, but otherwise move back and let normal, healthy development take place.
That’s the way it’s been done for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s only been very very recently (since the late 1980s and 1990s) that adults began organizing children’s play and bringing it indoors. On the surface it seem harmless, but many child specialists question if this interferes with normal development of cognitive and social skills. Interestingly, this movement indoors with less free play coincides with the era of soaring ADHD diagnoses.
Better to offer your kids outdoor, natural environments that allow for safe but free movement. Offer the simplest objects (sand, stones, water, sticks, leaves, jungle gyms and swings, a bucket and pail, a ball) keeping it simple allows kids to invest their mental energy and imagination. Encourage mistakes made along the way. Crying or fighting is natural and the real way that kids learn to get along. Resist the urge to step in and teach or fix conflict. Don’t rob your kids of these real-life opportunities to learn.
In short – young play should be messy and clumsy and exploratory. None of that is ADHD.