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Is my kid being highly active or just being a kid?

Toddlers and preschoolers are typically physically active and have short attention spans. Play is their role and that is also how they develop and learn new skills. Preschoolers should be physically active at least 3 hours a day, spread throughout the day.

Here are some questions to help you understand if your child is being hyperactive.

  1. Is my kid being more active than kids of the same age?

  2. Is my kid being highly active all of the time? Or is it mostly on days without getting outside to play?

  3. Does my kid have a short attention span that affects their performance in school?

  4. Is my kid able to follow directions in school?

  5. Is my kid able to participate in group activities or stay on tasks in school?

  6. Does my kid have a lack of safety awareness, or awareness of personal space?

Hyperactivity vs Sensory Seeking behavior

Hyperactivity is when a person is constantly active, impulsive, and easily distracted with a shorter attention span.

Sensory seeking behavior is a behavior that indicates a person is under sensitive. Children who are sensory seekers have less awareness of how their bodies are moving and less awareness of when they’re touched or when they touch objects or people. As a result, they’ll seek more sensory input. This can include oral seeking behavior, where a child continues to put items in their mouth after the age of two. Sensory seeking behaviors will often be seen on children with hyperactivity, ADHD, and ASD.

Oral seeking behavior is often to be seen with children before age of two.

Signs of sensory seeking behavior:

  1. Hyperactivity

  2. Being impulsive, emotions often escalate from 0 to 100

  3. Difficulty following directions in school and/or at home

  4. Shorter attention span compared to the same age peers in school

  5. Being risky, lack of safety awareness

  6. Ex: like to jump from couch, like to play flight with others

  7. Likes to be touched or touch others. Lack of awareness of personal space

  8. Oral seeking behavior

Emotions escalate from 0 to 100

You may see kids being risky and likes to jump from high surfaces, such as couch.

How does sensory seeking behavior affect a kid’s attention span?

When kids have sensory seeking behavior, they are craving sensory input. It is similar to how we crave food when we are hungry. It is hard to focus or stay on things when we feel hungry. Once we get food and feel satisfied, we will be able to focus on things.

Once kids get the sensory input they need, they will be able to regulate and calm themselves down. They will increase their attention span as well as ability to follow directions.

Most importantly, we DON’T want to STOP the movement.

How can I help my child with hyperactivity or sensory seeking behavior?

  1. Give your child plenty of chances to be active while keeping them safe

  2. Outdoor and indoor playground, museum, shopping mall

  3. Going for a walk, hiking, going to nature

  4. Provide fidget toys to help with sensory regulation

  5. Give your child outlets for their oral seeking behavior

  6. “Chewelry” or other tool specifically for safe chewing

  7. Sensory tool and desensitization techniques provided by your OT

Playing fidget toys

Examples of common fidget toys: Spinner, Simple dimple, Pop it and Snapperz toys

Examples of “chewelry”/toys for oral seeking kids

Please reach out to occupational therapy for formal assessment on sensory regulation.

I am proud to be an occupational therapist. Ella Wu, OTD, OTR/L Doctor of Occupational Therapy
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