Do you have an overactive toddler on your hands? If you're woken up at 5am every morning (and not by the alarm!), see havoc caused each dinnertime or feel you're eternally on the lookout for hazards as she races through the house at record speed, then you'll know having an overactive toddler can be hard work.


We know children come in all shapes and sizes, personalities and energy levels, but if you feel that your child needs to slow down, here’s how, with the help of parenting expert Dr Miriam Stoppard.

What to do if your toddler's waking too early

Are you green with envy when your friend boasts about her toddler sleeping until 7am, while your toddler beats the sunrise with her early morning wake-up calls? Maybe shift your expectations a little, says Miriam. “The person it’s ‘early’ for is the parent – to your tot there’s nothing abnormal about it.”

However, if you do revisit what you think is too early for them to rise and still struggle with 4am starts, there’s plenty you can do to encourage her to stay in bed a little longer.

Tips to slow her down

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  • “As soon as you think she’s ready, explain to her why you’d like her to try and stay in bed and invest in a special alarm clock that shows when it’s an acceptable time to come and see you,” advises Miriam Stoppard.
  • “Involving her in the timing of things brings her into the solution you’re aiming for. Let her know she can get out of bed, but needs to stay in her room until the clock changes,” says Miriam Stoppard.
  • Make sure she realises that if she does wake up early, she’s allowed to play with her toys and read her books. You could set up a system each morning that when the clock says she can come into your bedroom, she tells you what she’s been doing (or you ask her). Being interested will encourage her to repeat this behaviour.

What to do if your toddler's a mid-morning terror

If other toddlers you know like to lie down for a mid-morning nap at 11am but your child is wide awake and still full of energy (with no signs of a nap anytime soon!) you’re bound to be at your wits end, but these tips can help.

Tips to slow her down

  • Take a look at your morning routine. If you’re expecting your toddler to go from energetic playtime indoors or in the garden, straight to quiet time, this might be why she isn’t keen. “Introduce some calm, quiet activities like story reading cuddled up on the sofa or doing a jigsaw together,” health visitor Maggie Fisher says.
  • “Or try ‘watching the teddy’ – lie your toddler down with her favourite soft toy on her tummy. Then ask her to breathe slowly so her tummy rises and falls, moving the toys at the same time. This deep breathing should slow her down. Play some soothing music as well," says Maggie Fisher.
  • Take a look at how you’re spending time with her too, as sometimes the playtime might not be as active as it needs to be to tire her out. “Being out in the fresh air stimulates the production of melatonin, a natural sedative, and could help your toddler sleep better,” advises Maggie.

What to do if your toddler won’t settle at lunchtime

If there's more food on the floor than in your child's mouth and if she likes to throw it around rather than eat it, mealtimes can be stressful for parents of unsettled eaters. However, the key is to remember that the transition from morning playtime, napping and mealtime isn’t always instant – or easy – for toddlers.

“There’s no reason why we should expect a small child to observe adult mealtime etiquette. It’s a lot to ask of such a small person,” says Miriam Stoppard.

Tips to slow her down

  • “The best way to help your tot calm down at mealtimes is for you to eat together as a family,” says Miriam Stoppard. “If you’re at the table with your child, she won’t feel the need to misbehave to get your attention.”
  • “If she still doesn’t sit and eat with you, it’s time to introduce a warning system,” says Miriam. “You can tell her you’ll count to five and if she’s not sitting still then she’ll have to leave the table and go on the naughty step. Give her one more chance after the first count, but then timplement the move,” explains Miriam.

What to do if your toddler doesn’t wind down

If your toddler has been bouncing around the house all day and still won’t settle, this could means she’s heading into overtired territory. When this happens, a child’s brain is less likely to recognise when to chill out. The result? Lot’s of tears. “When a child won’t settle at the end of the day, she’s not used up enough energy during the day,” says Miriam.

Tips to slow her down

  • The best way to soothe her into a relaxing state of mind is a good bedtime story. “Bath, pyjamas on, a story, and then straight into bed. You can use a soft reading light or even music,” says Miriam. “But then you leave! I find calling out and clumping downstairs can help – toddlers like to hear that you’re still around while they settle.”
  • It can be really disturbing for a child if another parent who may have come home late from work wakes them up. Of course whoever isn’t the main carer will want to kiss them goodnight but make sure you adjust to your toddler’s schedule, not the other way round as it isn’t fair.

Is it ADHD?

If your child really won’t slow down for a second, it can feel like there’s a problem. Could it be ADHD?

“When a child’s behaviour is out of control and she doesn’t have the ability to turn-take or share, has trouble making friends, or flits from one activity to another, then we need to see if there might be a problem,” says Andrea Bilbow, chief executive of ADDISS, the National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service.

“However, ADHD is far more complex than just energetic behaviour,” explains Andrea. “It’s about poor organisational skills, poor short-term memory and an inability to regulate emotion and behaviour.”


Essentially, if a child is communicative and has the ability to concentrate, whether or not she chooses to, she’s unlikely to have ADHD.