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How Does ADHD Affect Children’s Behaviour?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is thought to impact around 5% of children, but many more are likely to be undiagnosed. ADHD often presents itself as a behavioural issue, and this means that some of the most common ADHD symptoms are frequently attributed as bad behaviour rather than side effects of a complex neurodevelopmental condition.
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How Does ADHD Affect Children’s Behaviour?


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is thought to impact around 5% of children, but many more are likely to be undiagnosed. ADHD often presents itself as a behavioural issue, and this means that some of the most common ADHD symptoms are frequently attributed as bad behaviour rather than side effects of a complex neurodevelopmental condition.

Children with ADHD can exhibit challenging behaviours that may cause issues at home and at school, but mis-judging such behaviours as tantrums and/or naughtiness can exacerbate the symptoms, especially in undiagnosed children.

Children with ADHD may misbehave and may need to be disciplined, just like any other neurotypical child. They may also throw tantrums like other children when they don’t get what they want. However, often the majority of their more negative behaviours may be the result of their condition itself and the core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

For this reason, it’s important to recognise the symptoms of ADHD in children so that they can be better supported and given the correct tools and accommodations to manage their condition and thrive – without the risk of being berated and told off constantly. Understanding how ADHD affects children can go a long way to helping their development and ensuring they’re not emotionally damaged from being told that they’re a bad child.

With this in mind, we’re going to explore how ADHD can impact children, and how you can support a child with ADHD. We will also mention some treatment options.

How does ADHD affect children?

The way in which ADHD affects a child will vary from person to person. Generally, the two main behavioural issues that are borne from ADHD are inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Some children experience both types of issues at the same time, whereas others are impacted by just one. Inattentiveness is thought to affect around 30% of people with ADHD, which is why in the past, the condition has been referred to as attention deficit disorder (ADD). Now it is correctly referred to as predominantly inattentive ADHD.

This type of ADHD (showing fewer or no hyperactivity symptoms) is more commonly undiagnosed because the symptoms aren’t always as noticable. For example, it has been found that girls are generally more likely to suffer from predominantly inattentive ADHD and therefore present with less obviously noticeable hyperactivity based symptoms. This could be a reason why more boys are diagnosed more often with ADHD.

The symptoms of ADHD in childhood and adolescence are not always clear cut nor well defined, especially in children of high high intelligence in well structured home and school environments.The symptoms of ADHD in childhood and adolescence are not always clear cut nor well defined, especially in children of high high intelligence in well structured home and school environments.

With this in mind, here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of ADHD in children.


Inattention is a symptom of inattentive and combined ADHD that makes it hard for children to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. In general, children have shorter attention spans than adults, so it’s normal for your child to get distracted more quickly and have trouble focusing than you would. As we grow, our attention spans also grow and it’s easier for us to tune out distractions.

That being said, if your child is having trouble paying attention and gets distracted easily, to the point where they rarely finish their work, this could be a sign of ADHD. It could be that they start a task, but then they get distracted by something else part way through, and then forget to come back to the original task.

Disorganisation also falls under the umbrella of inattentive symptoms, and this can cause problems of its own. For example, they might forget where they put their school bag, so they might be late for school because they couldn’t find it. They might also find it hard to prioritise tasks or set out a method of doing things, especially with more complex projects. It’s not that they don’t know something; it’s that they find it hard to convey their thoughts and take the time to do so.

This can lead to simple and careless mistakes being made in schoolwork. This is often looked at as laziness or a lack of effort, but that isn’t the case. Children with ADHD might leave a task to the last minute because they’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. This results in a last-minute panic and they rush, meaning simple errors are made.

Inattention and trouble staying focused isn’t laziness or an unwillingness to do something, but being berated as such can make children feel as though they’re at fault for something they can’t control. This can lead to low self-esteem which can have a knock-on effect throughout their life.

On the flip side of inattention is hyperfocus. This is when a child finds an interest, be it trains, a video game, a book, or sports, and that becomes the centre of attention for them, one of their strengths and something they flourish at. They will likely only want to talk about this subject and get involved in activities that surround it. This in itself can cause distractions from other tasks.



Hyperactivity is a subtype of ADHD that some children might have alongside inattentiveness (combined ADHD), or on its own. The symptoms of hyperactivity can have long-term effects and make it difficult for them in school and social settings, and it can also have a knock-on effect on discipline. Hyperactivity is often confused with poor behaviour, and although it can appear that way, in children with ADHD, it’s important to remember that they’re not consciously making a decision to be ‘naughty’.

Some of the ways hyperactivity can present itself include:

  • Fidgeting and moving around a lot (although some research has shown that people with ADHD might use fidgeting as a way to try and stay focused on the task at hand)
  • Poor concentration skills
  • Talking a lot, often interrupting others in conversations and struggling to take it in turns to speak
  • Having an impaired sense of danger (either little or no understanding of danger, e.g., touching a hot iron)
  • Patience issues, e.g., struggling to wait their turn


Impulsiveness is something we all deal with from time to time (such as fighting the urge to touch a bench even though there’s a ‘wet paint’ sign on it), but for children with ADHD, it can seem almost impossible for them to fight their impulses. Self-control is a skill that typically develops around five or six years of age, but this can come later in children with ADHD.

Impulsiveness is about more than just acting on impulsive thoughts; it can lead to behavioural issues. For example, a child with ADHD impulsiveness might act in a goofy way to get attention, or they might be aggressive towards others and not understand how their actions affect others, or how their words could make others feel. They might also react negatively to criticism and their mistakes being pointed out, resulting in emotional outbursts, and following rules could be challenging for them.

As your child grows up and enters their teenage years, they might take more risks compared to their peers, and this could potentially see them get into some dangerous situations due to impulsiveness.

It’s not always obvious for children in general to think about the consequences or long term effects of their actions. This is particularly true in children with impulsive ADHD symptoms.

Listening issues


The final major symptom of ADHD in children is listening issues. Due to inattention and hyperactivity, your child might find it difficult to sit and listen to what you’re saying. This also applies at school where they might find it challenging to sit for long periods of time and listen to their teacher.

Socially, it can make it hard for them to make friends because they might struggle to listen to other kids and interrupt them in conversations, but treatment is available that can ensure your child flourishes socially and academically.

Treating children with ADHD at The ADHD Centre

At The ADHD Centre, we have a team of specialists who work with children with ADHD. Whether your child already has an ADHD diagnosis and needs treatment, or if your child is displaying symptoms of ADHD but doesn’t have a diagnosis, we can help.

We conduct private child ADHD assessments during which one of our ADHD psychiatrists will go through the Conners 3 diagnosis assessment. This involves teachers, parents, and the child providing relevant information about the child’s symptoms, how their life is being impacted, and how the symptoms have progressed over time. Medical and family history will also be taken into account, and a clinical assessment will be carried out at one of our clinics in Manchester or London, or online via Zoom for Healthcare.

The treatment will be tailored specifically to your child’s needs and symptoms. For example, if inattention is a major issue for your child, medication may be prescribed to help manage these symptoms. In other cases, therapies such as CBT might help. Worldwide studies show that a combination of medication and focussed psychological interventions produce the best results for treating ADHD.

The aim of treatment with a mental health professional is to give children with ADHD the support they need, improve the parent-child relationship, and ensure the child’s difficulties are effectively treated so that they can develop, flourish and reach their full potential.

To find out more about child ADHD treatment at The ADHD Centre, please call us on 0800 061 4276 or email us at

The ADHD Centre

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ADHD Centre in London
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Postal Address
13304 PO Box 6945 London W1A 6US

The ADHD Centre

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We are a team of experienced Consultant Psychiatrists, Psychologists and ADHD Behavioural Coaches.

We have been diagnosing and treating people with ADHD since 2009.

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