Dear Polly, One of the four-year-olds in my group, Camilla, is so wound up, it feels like she's bouncing off the walls. I want to get the year off to a great start, and I'm afraid her behavior might be, well, contagious! Camilla flits from one activity to another. She simply can't sit still or stay focused, even when she chooses an activity herself. I'm worried and frustrated. Do you think I should suggest that Camilla be checked out for ADD? — Stumped in Staten Island

Dear Stumped, First of all, I seriously doubt that Camilla has ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which is sometimes called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is serious, but it's a long-term condition. Although we all hear the label tossed about quite cavalierly, it's much more likely that the beginning of school is causing this behavior. Many children react this way at the beginning of the school year — and why shouldn't they? Change can be somewhat overwhelming for each and every one of us.

How can you help a child settle down? Keep in mind that there are a number of ways for you to be a calming influence. Here are some tried and true tips:

Make sure your program offers children the security of routines.

  1. Read stories, fix a snack, chat, and "relate," but don't plan overstimulating events for a little while.
  2. Offer quiet downtime to play with favorite toys, wash dishes in the sink, or play in the sandbox. It shouldn't take more than a week or two for children to settle down.
  3. I always think it's helpful to mention to a child the probable cause of feelings and behavior. Acknowledge that beginning a new school year can be stressful and that everyone has a hard time settling down.
  4. Involve parents and family members. You can set up a meeting with Camilla's parents and find out if her running around is confined to school or if she's this active at home, as well. When you meet with the parents, ask how they are handling their daughter's behavior at home and share what you are doing to help Camilla calm down at school. Invite their suggestions and help them utilize yours.

If adults let the holidays billow out of control and go on too long, it isn't a child's fault if she loses self-control. Sympathize and do what you can to be a calming influence.

Author's note: ADD and ADHD are used interchangeably to describe a recognized medical disorder. A powerful drug, Ritalin, is often prescribed for children who have this condition. A child with ADD will exhibit extreme inattentiveness, distractibility, and disorganization for at least six months. A child with ADHD will show, in addition to those symptoms, excessive impulsiveness and an inability to sit still. However, children are sometimes incorrectly diagnosed. According to child psychiatrist Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., before a child is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, a competent specialist will rule out all other possible causes of behavior. Many experts believe that even if a child does have ADD, medication may be less helpful than supportive parenting and a developmentally appropriate classroom.