Should 2-Year-Olds Be Given Medication for ADHD?

Two male toddlers sticking out their tongues

It’s an unsettling trend that’s quickly gaining speed: toddlers are increasingly being prescribed drugs for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A recent article from the Today Show cites the number of U.S. 2- and 3-year-olds receiving the medication at 10,000.

Are these drugs necessary?

girl and boy toddlers Let’s be honest: toddlers can be a rowdy bunch. It’s not easy to parent during these years and keep up with the constant running, screaming, climbing, and curiosity that’s characteristic of this age.

But when you think about it, toddlers are active because it’s their “job” to play.

That constant stream of energy and inquisitive nature is what’s fueling their physical and cognitive development.

The flip side is that, as parents, it’s our job to teach our 18 to 36-month old how to behave. It’s our responsibility to nurture and bridle their energies for good! Admittedly, this can be an uphill battle, and so the temptation to seek relief in the form of a medication is understandable. Even the best parents will inevitably face days that seem overwhelming. Even the calmest toddler may one day throw a sudden tantrum at the grocery store.

Children need many things, but especially our guidance, our love and our grace.

Consider alternatives to medication

Mom hugging son and daughterIf your toddler is particularly unruly or difficult to control, Focus’ counseling department recommends trying a diversity of other methods to help manage his or her behavior before considering the medications that often accompany a diagnosis of ADHD.

One reason to consider treatment alternatives is because Adderall, one of the common drugs given to children with ADHD, is a very potent drug. It consists of three amphetamine salts together in one medicine. In some children, that cocktail can incite aggressive and sometimes explosive behaviors that might result in even more medications being prescribed.

Some of the alternative suggestions to ADHD medications from our counselors include:

  • Dietary changes, such as limiting sugar intake
  • Parenting modifications, like instituting consistent and clear boundaries for the toddler and enforcing rules
  • Ensuring the child is getting enough sleep and isn’t over-tired
  • Closely regulating digital stimulation – too much video/TV/computer time can result in a too active toddler
  • Making sure the toddler has enough play time to expend extra energy

Focus’s resources for parents of toddlers

We’re here to help you along your journey with a variety of resources:

  • Our website has a section on toddlerhood you may want to check out that covers topics like potty training, bedtime, misbehavior and sexual discovery. There are also other articles in our parenting section that will apply to this season of life.
  • Our broadcast “Real-World Advice of Parenting Toddlers” might be an encouraging one to listen to. It will help you find the right balance of independent development, control and discipline with your child.
  • Both Thriving Family magazine and are designed to help families thrive in Christ. Every issue of Thriving Family provides parents with age-specific advice. You can subscribe to Thriving Family via a donation of any amount or download the free magazine app.
  • Speak to one of our family help specialists by calling us at 1-800-A-FAMILY or emailing us at
  • You can coordinate to speak with one of our licensed counselors by calling us at 1-855-771-HELP (4357). Counselors are available Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. MT (due to high call volume, it might be necessary for you to leave your name and number for a counselor to return your call).

But let me ask you: Do you think naturally active children are being unnecessarily medicated for ADHD?


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Leave a Comment

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Toddlers should not be drugged with psychotropics.  I am a Registered Nurse and Family Nurse Practitioner with experience in the field of mental health.  In more than 20 years of being a healthcare provider, I have witnessed the damage that these drugs can do.  I am also the mother of three sons, and I believe we must do everything possible to advocate for the health and well-being of our children without resorting to the cop-out of psychiatric drugs, which are being prescribed like candy.  The adverse impact of these drugs on society is staggering.  The scientific literature is replete with the potential and actual harm caused by these drugs.  The pharmaceutical industry marketing these psychotropic drugs are raking in billions of dollars at the expense of the well-being of the persons being medicated with them.

Please refer to the following resources:
-Kids Caught in the Psychiatric Maelstrom (How Pathological Labels and "Therapeutic Drugs Hurt Children and Families) by Elizabeth E. Root, MSW, MS, Ed
-Medication Madness (A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications) by Peter Breggin, MD
-Prozac:  Panacea or Pandora? by Ann Blake Tracy, PhD
-Making a Killing:  The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging  (a documentary film presented by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights)
-Generation Rx  (a documentary film by Keven P. Miller)
-Prescription:  Suicide?  (a documentary film by Robert Manciero)
-Dead Wrong:  How psychiatric drugs can kill your child  (a documentary film presented by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights)

Let us take a stand to protect our children, to love and care for them, and to live in such a way that promotes their normal growth and development.  This involves commitment and sacrifice, but the short and long-term results are worth it!  Life is not easy, and there are always challenges and complications, but that is no excuse to cause harm to children under the guise of "healthcare."

Elizabeth Baddour, RN, MSN, FNP-BC    

Catherine Scerbak O'Brien More than 1 year ago
No!  Especially for boys.  No electronics until they can read, no TV and let them play, play play! 
Nancy Hatch More than 1 year ago
Also, no we didn't put our 2 year old on Ritalin. Not until he was 5 in case you were wondering.
Nancy Hatch More than 1 year ago

I see most of you are quick to criticize a parent and don't know what you are talking about!!!! How would you critical people like a one year old that didn't take naps and only slept 6 hours a night??!!!!!! Pre- schools and day care promptly kicked him out the first week. The first week of kindergarten, the principal, teacher, coach and guidance counselor called me. He had to be kept away from other kids at church because of kicking and hitting. No play dates and no friends. Keep in mind I have another child without ADHD that teachers and her friends thought was marvelous and well behaved and a model child!! So yes , Ritalin was like a miracle and allowed him to , just barely, stay in a regular classroom and participate in some church activities.  My friend had an extremely active boy that teacher wanted to put on Ritalin and I commend her for saying no. Yes there are some kids on Ritalin that don't need to be but please remember until you walked a day in my shoes keep your criticism to yourself!!! You don't know what you are talking about!! You don't understand about mental illness or brain disorders.

Elaine Corbitt More than 1 year ago
When our now 39 yr. old son was 3, we took him to be diagnosed because of the highly rambunctious and sometimes destructive behaviors.  Our pediatrician recommended hands-on therapy/skills to interact and channel these behaviors.  He indicated that a lot of children grow out of this and to allow time for him to develop,  It took everything we could focus on and pursue.  We also got him into soccer which kept him very busy outdoors in fresh air and limited his video/game playing time.  Although there were days and times that no matter what, he acted out negatively - most of his growing up years were manageable.  This included some school issues that came along as well.  We made sure we educated the teachers he had so they would do what they could to work with him and us.  Most did, but there were the ones who resisted and didn't want to take time to deal with.  These negative teacher decided to believe we were catering to him.  We put our trust in God and our son still is considered borderline hyperactive, but he has learned to stay busy doing positive things.  He still loves his soccer and plays semi-pro beach volleyball.  It is always worth trying the less radical approaches! :)
Paula Boroughs More than 1 year ago
I agree that toddlers are doing their jobs when being "busy bees". Some are naturally more energetic than others but that does not call for medication any more than putting them on an antidepressant becasue they are whiney when they need a nap. Medication should be seen as a tool in any situatuion not the complete toolbox at any age.
Lucas Wheatcroft More than 1 year ago
How can a two-year old child even be diagnosed with ADHD? I mean, all kids are playful and active, they're kids! - We can't be giving them drugs that are going to make them stupid, destroy their kidneys, and use pills as a "band-aid" to help these children relax, when really, the parents are responsible for training their child(ren) how to behave appropriately. It seems like psychiatrists and M.Ds in America love prescribing medication, yet only about 30-50% of ADHD children should be treated with medication, the rest quick use some discipline and quality time spent with the parents.

Why does America have the highest number of psychiatric drugs being prescribed to mentally-ill people? Why are so many people mentally ill in the U.S.? There is an epidemic that needs to be resolved because too many minds, kidneys, and livers are being trashed by these strong chemicals.
Jim Harris More than 1 year ago
By the way, I just remembered an incident with our youngest that happened in the 4th grade.  We got a call from her wonderful teacher right after school let out.  She was in tears, and we could hear our daughter in tears in the background.  It seems that our usually well-behaved little one had been very disruptive all day and had gotten a "citation."  Both were devastated. 

Her Christmas orchestra concert, right after school, was similarly eventful.  My wife and I could see how she was having trouble focusing on the performance.

We later learned the rest of the story.

My usual practice was to arise at around 5:30 A.M. to give her her morning medication.  She would then go back to sleep until shortly after 6 o'clock, and get ready to be on the bus just after 7 o'clock. 

On this particular morning, she didn't swallow the medication like she "always" does.  Upon awakening, the medication, undissolved, was still in her mouth and she spit it into her wastebasket.  She had absorbed enough medication that she was fine at home and on the bus ride, but her behavior deteriorated as the day wore on.

She felt awful about the way she had acted and that she had upset her teacher.  She still remembers how awful the day turned out and doesn't want a repeat.

Though there have been some recent struggles, she is usually an honor roll student.

Thus, her ADHD isn't a problem of a simple lack of discipline.  This normally disciplined child simply could not control her behavior without the aid of the medication.

Further, this inability to control herself was evident at a very young age.
Jim Harris More than 1 year ago
The opinions expressed thus far are all well thought out and very valid.  However, let me tell you about our experience.

My wife and I have 11 children between us.  Yes, we are blended (if fact, I usually add stirred and pureed).  The last 3 we adopted and they are my wife's biological grandchildren.  All three of these have had mental/behavior problems and those began at an early age.

With the middle child, the problems were apparent in toddlerhood.  She was in and out of our care (as a foster child) and we blamed the lack of structure and discipline in her birth home as being the root of the problem.  By the time she was six, she was in our care fulltime, adopted, and the fluctuation in her emotions was taxing our parenting abilities.  Remember, this is #10 and it was not our first time with problem children.  The school psychologist was called in and observed and deduced that ADHD might be what our little girl was dealing with.  The pediatrician looked over the psychologist's report and made the ADHD diagnosis.  Medication was started on her 7th birthday.

Now 11 years later, she will graduate from high school in a little over a week (the first in her birth family to graduate with her class).  Since that initial diagnosis there have numerous changes to medication(s), therapists, brain scans, psychiatrists, time, money, and even school changes.  While she is very intelligent, school has been a challenge as she railed against "the system," lost assignments, was angry at someone or other, and just didn't do assignments.

Her little sister has also had problems that appeared early.  She first came to us, in foster care, at 7 months.  She was difficult to get down for a nap or to sleep at night.  In those early years we routinely spent 1-3 hours to get her settled down for sleep at night. 

Finally, several months after her sister's diagnosis, our pediatrician suggested we were dealing with ADHD in the younger one.  A low dose of methylphenidate evened her moods.  A month later the pediatrician suggested the prescription medication clonidine to aid in getting her to sleep at night (naps ceased as soon as she started taking methylphenidate). 

The clonidine was and still is our best weapon to get her the sleep she needs.  Ten hours is our goal.  At 14, her bedtime is still 8 o'clock.

As with her older sister, there have been multiple changes to medications, psychiatrists, therapists, brain scans, respite care, a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital, time, money, and school changes.

Oh, did I mention, she was 3 when the medication regimen began.

The point of this rant is--don't judge on this issue unless you are willing to walk in ours or other similarly stressed parents shoes.

One of our older daughters has recently moved home with her four children while her husband is deployed (praise the Lord for a large home).  Her oldest is definitely challenged with ADD, but not in a way that needs medication.  He is polite, extremely smart, well-mannered, and self-confident.  While he might do better with medication, he doesn't "need" it to function in daily life.  That is not the case with his aunts.

I know more about ADHD than I ever wanted to know, and I still don't know enough to "fix" my children.  I can only observe, keep looking for solutions, and adjust to varying conditions.

Doctors, Psychiatrists, and other professionals are alarmed about the rise in ADHD diagnoses.  I have my own opinions and they are similar to the ones we have all heard.  I can tell you that these children do not and have not spent a lot of screen time.  To the best of our ability, we have fed them balanced diets.  Yeah, we've been through all that.  We live on a farm and there is plenty of room and opportunity to get exercise.  Instead, these two disdain exercise.

The one variable we couldn't control was their genetics.  We found out, after we had begun medications, that their birth father was diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, but refused prescription medication.  Instead, he medicated with illegal drugs.  Additionally, he was later diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder (a sociopath in lay terms).  That we know of, there are two other children (boys), with other mothers and he has no contact with any of them.  This is not just a medical problem, it is a societal problem.

Medication has given these two girls a reasonably normal childhood.  My wife's oldest is 44 and mine will turn 42 in 2 months.  We have been at this a long time and we are tired.  Please don't judge us or other frazzled parents harshly.  Instead, help us find solutions.

Cheryl Allen More than 1 year ago
Hi I am a single mother of two young men now. I just wanted to share my past experience with you with the ridalin push of the 90's. 
My youngest son was hyper active. But it was not me who wanted him diagnosed as ADHD. It was a woman vice principle at a school he attended. She put up a good fight with me resulting in my son at a pediatrician appointment. They forced me into a trial diagnoses.  For three weeks. One ridalin pill one day and a fake pill the next day and so forth. I couldn't believe the things this did to my son. His lips went white. He had sleeping disorders, appetite changed mood swings. Even his best friend was pleading we me to stop the test. Durring the testing period the teacher was given forms to fill out on a daily basis to help the pediatrician diagnoses.  And the pediatrician was concerned that the teachers were lying on the forms because they were not completed properly. 
However, this drug was disrupting our lives so much. I took it and flushed it down the toilet!! It was horrible and I could not believe all this was going on. I had tried to reason with the principle to apply disappline at the school. He agreed with me, but then the woman vice principle came into the room and totally disagreed and the man principal backed down. After I flushed the drug down the toilet  my son's behavior had returned to himself. I did not tell the school that I was no longer giving him the drug. They were commending me on how well behaved he was when they didn't know I had stopped giving him the drug. They were procceding on pressuring me to give up my right to administer the drug to them. They wanted to administer the drug to my son at the school. I contacted the school board filed a complaint and moved my son to another school. After that I had no more problems with teachers. I cannot believe that this is happening to children! That's Satan's drug!
Now my son is 23 years old a father of two beautiful daughters and has his own company as a electrical contractor. He is well educated and doing well. I truly do not think that there such a disease called ADHD. It's something that was made up for convenience.  
Barbi Roth More than 1 year ago
There are exceptions to every rule - but our 6-year-old foster child pretty much summed it up when the pediatrician asked if he was taking his medication (which we had discontinued when he was placed in our custody) "I had ADHD when I lived with my mom." Routine, boundaries, good nutrition and enough sleep work wonders.

Fran Bowery More than 1 year ago
No, I am in the health care field and work with many children. I see children put on medications for ADHD and ADD, I think this is truly for the purpose of pacifying the parent. The parents want their children to be quite and still, not running around and they do not want to discipline their children, they want a quick fix. People think a pill will fix the problem when in reality they need discipline. Parents need to grow up and take some responsibility for their children and stop blaming a disorder or disease for their behavior. Let children be children and be a parent and discipline when needed. 
James Lauer More than 1 year ago
There is a national epidemic alright.  An epidemic of under parenting and over medicating.  An epidemic of children being provided junk food full of sugar every day.  An epidemic of parents putting their own interests first and children not being disciplined, provided enough sleep, and allowed too much video time.  An epidemic of misdiagnosis or maldiagnosis by the doctors and psychiatrists who are more than willing to give you whatever you can pay for to cater to the parents who don't want their personal life disrupted with parenting.  The statistics tell us that since the 1970's the number of children diagnosed with ADHD has tripled.  Do we really think this disease is exploding with a trend topwards 100% of our children being ADHD?  The psychiatric profession is no longer to be trusted.  More than 95% of the children don't need medication, they need a full-time father and a mother;  married to each other preferably but even if divorced they need to be full-time parents.
Alan Lafon More than 1 year ago
Absolutely and unequivocally not!  I'm a retired "special educator" and the use of these drugs to change behavior at that age is a no brainer!

jake_roberson More than 1 year ago
Two years old is way too early! Good gravy, let your kids learn and grow and experience life a little. You shouldn't medicate a child just because you might get run a little ragged by joyful, energetic children. It can be exhausting for us parents, sure, but that's not our children's fault. That's just life.