High Energy Child vs ADHD: Key Indicators Every Parent Should Know

This article is designed to educate parents on the distinct differences between a high-energy child and one with ADHD, emphasizing key indicators to ensure accurate understanding and appropriate support.

ADHD vs. High Energy

It is common to confuse high energy levels with ADHD. However, it is essential to understand the differences between them in order to ensure your child receives an accurate diagnosis and subsequent support. 


ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can involve inattention, disorganization, and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. 

  • Inattention and disorganization: This is usually described as an inability to remain focused on a single task, a child who appears never to be listening, a child who loses things for school or other tasks regularly, and children who are not at the right developmental stages for their age.
  • Hyperactivity and impulsivity: This is usually defined as overactivity, a child who fidgets all the time, or who cannot stay seated, a child who regularly interrupts other activities without asking, or a child who cannot wait their turn. 

ADHD is more common in young boys, but it can manifest in girls too, though at an older age. It is also something that often appears in childhood. It can coexist with high energy, but not all cases of diagnosable ADHD have symptoms of high energy. 

High energy

A high-energy child vs. ADHD child will seem the same at face value, but in reality, having a high-energy child is not a neurodevelopmental disorder, nor are the features as severe.

  • Physically active: Children who are high energy appear physically active most of the time. They often play more frequently than their classmates and play roughly. They have to be active; otherwise, they face problems with concentration or sitting still. 
  • Overexcited: Children who are high energy are also more likely to get over-excited very easily. They might have an exuberant personality, but that also makes it more likely that they will have intense emotional responses. 
adhd vs high energy kid

ADHD vs. high energy: key indicators

– Duration of symptoms

ADHD symptoms are persistent, and once they manifest, they typically persist well into adulthood, where they can impact occupational, social, and academic functioning.

– Consistency across settings

As mentioned, ADHD symptoms can be intrusive in every part of life, so it doesn’t matter where a child or adult is; ADHD symptoms will persist. Children who have high energy levels may notice that symptoms wear off as they get older.

– Attention span

Children with high energy often have a short attention span because they are constantly in search of new stimuli, whereas children living with ADHD can have short attention spans because of their neurodevelopmental disorder.

– Impulsivity

A child with high energy is not nearly as impulsive as a child with ADHD, but instead, they are just constantly full of energy and need to be stimulated.

– Response to discipline and structure

A child with ADHD responds well to discipline and structure. By comparison, having unstructured play time is best for a child with high energy.

Let’s look at some examples of how each type of child might respond differently in similar situations.


Tina is an 8-year-old who loves listening to her grandparents tell stories. She doesn’t do well in school except for art class. Anything that has to do with creativity is among her favorite subjects. Her teachers noticed that she often interrupts other students on the playground by interjecting herself into their activities without asking. 

She doesn’t seem interested in non-creative school subjects and has developmentally fallen behind her peers. Tina seems consistently unprepared for school, always forgetting her homework or leaving things in the classroom that she needs to take home.


John is an 8-year-old who does really well playing with his siblings or his dad. He doesn’t do well in school except for PE and sports. Anything that has to do with physical activity is among his favorite subjects. His teachers noticed that he is always active in the classroom, disruptive and fidgeting. Distractions like television or books never seem to work.

When he starts playing, his energy never stops. Even if the class has a dance lesson, he has the highest energy. He plays sports outside of school, where he is the roughest child on the team and the most physically active.

John always has what he needs for school, and he’s not developmentally behind his peers, but he’s always fidgeting in class and anxious to get out and run around during breaks.

supporting high energy vs adhd child

Importance of proper diagnosis

If you are wondering whether your child is struggling with high energy vs. ADHD, it is important that you receive a proper diagnosis and consult with medical professionals. There can be indicators of ADHD in a child who is high energy, but without a legitimate consultation, you might not provide the best support and care for your child.

Moreover, there are several positive ways that you can support higher energy kids or children with ADHD as a parent and through your disciplinary actions, but without the right diagnosis, you may not know which tactics are most effective. 

Tips on how to support high energy vs. ADHD

Whether you have a child with ADHD or who is just high energy, there are things you can do to support them. 

– For high-energy children

For children who are high-energy, it is important to ensure they have structured play opportunities. That energy needs a place where it can go in a non-destructive fashion. This looks different for all children but might include:

  • Sports all year round
  • Lots of play dates
  • A yard with toys and ample space to run around

It is important to ensure your high-energy child gets ample physical activity, enough to help them combat their energy levels. It is also good to set consistent boundaries. 

– For children with ADHD

For children with ADHD, it is important to consider possible interventions, especially after an official diagnosis. ADHD is manageable if children are exposed to things like:

  1. Behavioral therapy
  2. Medications
  3. Educational support 

Medication can help manage the severity of symptoms, while behavioral therapy can provide life skills that make it easier to deal with disorganization. As a parent or guardian of a child with ADHD, it is important that you keep a structured routine at home, with clear expectations for your child and positive reinforcement strategies. 

Summing Up

When looking at ADHD vs. high energy, it does not matter what the diagnosis is; what matters is understanding and recognizing the unique needs of each child. As a parent, you need to be observant, patient, and proactive in seeking guidance and support for your child. 

Early intervention is key. The sooner you can determine whether there is a legitimate ADHD diagnosis, the sooner you can find education, medication, and therapy to build a support structure. This can help offset developmental delays and problems within the organization. 

With either high energy vs. ADHD, finding tailored support based on the individual needs of each child will provide the best outcomes.