hands holding fidget spinners

About hyperactivity and inattention

Children and young people are often energetic, restless and excitable. Many have difficulty sitting still for a period of time, for example, some are unable to sit through a meal without fidgeting or attempting to leave the table. Some children and young people may not listen to instructions, may do things without thinking, and may be noisy and argumentative. It is also not unusual for children and young people to have difficulty concentrating at times. Hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive behaviours are normal and are nothing to worry about, however they can be difficult to deal with.

Children and young people in high spirits can often be described as 'hyper', but this term can be overused, and is sometimes misleading. It is only more extreme hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattention that may be a sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Think about your response

It can be frustrating and exhausting when dealing with a child or young person who is being very energetic or boisterous, or is not listening to you. It is important to be aware of the impact that your feelings will have on your response. Staying calm will help you respond more helpfully to the child or young person.

How to respond to hyperactivity and inattention

  • Stay calm. Shouting or getting agitated is unlikely to help.
  • Stick to a regular daily routine, e.g. meals and a set bedtime, so they know what is going to happen and when. 
  • Plan ahead to avoid unexpected situations for the child or young person.
  • Set clear limits and boundaries, as this lets them know what is expected of them.
  • Reward positive behaviour that you would like to encourage, and set consequences for negative behaviour as appropriate.
  • Make sure they have plenty of physical activity to burn off any excess energy. You should build in some time for physical activity every day.
  • Work out if there are times when their attention and concentration are better. If there are, try and repeat the circumstances, for example a particular space for doing homework.
  • Keep a diary of food and drink and the behaviour that follows. If a pattern emerges, cut these foods or drinks out of their diet for a period of time and note any changes in behaviour. 
  • When you want them to listen to you, get down to their level, kneel if you need to. Make sure they have heard and understood what you have said.
  • Try to give only one instruction or piece of information at a time. Once they have completed one task, they can then be given the next.
  • Be aware that you may have to repeat instructions several times for the child or young person. It’s important not to get frustrated by this and to repeat the instructions calmly.
  • When giving instructions, try and frame them positively, e.g. it’s better to say "please walk", rather than "don’t run".

About ADHD and ADD

Children and young people who have ADHD have marked difficulties with inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness, alongside problems controlling their speech and behaviour. ADD is similar but the main difficulty is with concentration rather than excessive hyperactivity.

The NHS website outlines some signs of inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness that are common to ADHD and ADD:


  • having a short attention span and being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes - for example, in schoolwork
  • appearing forgetful or losing things
  • being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
  • appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
  • constantly changing activity or task
  • having difficulty organising tasks

Hyperactivity and impulsiveness:

  • being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
  • constantly fidgeting
  • being unable to concentrate on tasks
  • excessive physical movement
  • excessive talking
  • being unable to wait their turn
  • acting without thinking
  • interrupting conversations
  • little or no sense of danger 

With ADHD or ADD, the above signs have often:

  • been present continuously for at least six months
  • started before the age of 12
  • been present in at least two different settings, e.g. home and school
  • had an impact on their social or academic ability and interfere with their daily life.

Who to contact if you're concerned that a child or young person may have ADHD or ADD

For parents and carers

If your child is:

  • Nursery age - contact your Health Visitor
  • Primary school age - contact your Headteacher
  • High school age - contact your Guidance Teacher.

For professionals

Please consult with other professionals involved or the named person, and to help identify the most appropriate support, go to: www.nhsfife.org/camhs-choosingtherightsupport

Supporting a child or young person with ADHD or ADD

As well as the ideas in the “How to respond” section above, the following approaches may also help:

  • If the child or young person is starting to lose control, distract them or remove them from the situation.
  • Keep social interactions and playtimes short to ensure that they enjoy the time without becoming frustrated.
  • Be aware that sleep patterns may be disturbed and ensure a consistent bedtime routine is in place.

This Sleep Hygiene Sway has been developed by NHS Fife Community Children and Young People's ADHD Nurses to provide information and advice on sleep, for parents and carers of children and young people with ADHD.

In school

School staff in Fife have access to guidelines which have been written by the NHS and Education Service. Training is also offered to teachers so that they can best support children and young people with ADHD or ADD. 

Facilitating the inclusion of children and young people with ADHD or ADD is the responsibility of the classroom teacher, supported by Support for Learning teachers and support staff, support services and other agencies as appropriate.

In Fife, there are a number of whole school approaches, to help with classroom management and the inclusion of children and young people with ADHD or ADD. If additional support is required, school staff will advise on this.

Other resources 

Hyperclub, direct support for children and young people in Fife:

Information on ADHD including links to parent support groups in Fife:


Scottish ADHD Coalition, support in Scotland: