Impulsivity & Hyperactivity

Protecting Children from Accidents

Hyperactive and impulsive children can be accident-prone. Here’s what you need to know.

A jar of coins labeled accident can save the day if you've been spending too much money.
A jar of coins labeled accident can save the day if you've been spending too much money.

Hyperactivity is the prime culprit in preschoolers. Children may jump on the furniture and hop from table to chair to couch. They run around the house without looking and bump their heads on sharp table corners and walls. They climb counters and bookshelves without thinking about how they’ll get down.

Impulsivity is the greatest danger for school age children, who may seem fearless on the playground as they climb the tallest trees and jump from the top of the jungle gym. These children are the ones who wander off to their favorite creek or play area without telling their parents. In stores, they may disappear in search of something that interests them.

Adolescence is a dangerous time because impulsivity and driving don’t mix. Teens (and adults) with ADHD frequently drive too fast, change lanes without looking, and perform treacherous stunts. Hot tempers can lead to road rage incidents.

Impulsivity may also lead to lying, stealing, or setting fires. If academic and social problems cause low self-esteem, there may be risky behavior to impress peers, like binge drinking, drug abuse, and shoplifting. Safe sex? Don’t count on it.

Impulsive behavior doesn’t stop at 21. Impulse-driven adults buy things they can’t afford and start dozens of projects they can’t finish. These are minor problems compared to the other risks of adult ADHD: Stealing, lying, gambling, and other “impulse control” behaviors. Ditto for alcohol or drug misuse and poor judgment in personal and sexual relationships.

Plan for Safety

Medication provides protection against injury by reducing impulsivity and hyperactivity. But medication alone is not enough. Supervision and behavior modification are critical.

For Preschoolers:
Parents must be alert at all times. Hyperactive kids move fast.

  • A parent or older sibling must always supervise free play.
  • Stop jumping or running sooner than you might with another child.
  • When outside, hold hands.
  • When out walking, adults should walk on the side that’s closer to the street.
  • Be ready to stop her with your actions, not words, should she dart off.
  • In stores or malls, hold hands or contain the child in a cart or wagon safety restraint.

For older children and teens:
Anticipate potential problems in all settings: home, street, playground, friend’s house, or sports. Don’t count on kids with ADHD to remember what you told them not to do. Supervision is key. Someone has to be there to say it’s not okay to go to the quarry for a swim.

  • If your child is riding his bicycle to a friend’s house, an adult should keep watch on both ends.
  • Insist on safety equipment for all sports and related activities.
  • Educate your child’s friends’ parents about ADHD and the need for supervision.
  • Always know where your child is, what he’s doing, and with whom.
  • Arrange some form of supervision for teens on weekdays between 3 pm and 6 pm. With most parents working, that’s when teens experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex, and petty crime.
  • Involve your teen in supervised activities, such as team sports or volunteering, to keep “free time” to a minimum and to increase esteem-building opportunities.
  • If you child says, “Butt out,” don’t back down. Hold the line on safety.

For adults:
You know you have a problem if you’re frequently in a personal, financial, professional or legal crisis. Enlist the help of friends, colleagues, your spouse or a coach to help you make decisions, prepare for contingencies, remain alert, and anticipate consequences. If you needed medication to reduce risky behavior as a child, consider continuing to take it as an adult.