Need help breaking free from addiction?
Call 24/7 for treatment options. Who Answers?

5 Year Old Behavior-Is It ADHD Or Bipolar Or Both?


Hi, My 5 year old is currently spitting at school out of frustration or anger, hitting adults when in trouble, hiding when corrected, and tearing papers off the wall. He also played in the toilet at school and put toilet paper on the wall. He’s always been a handful. He’s much easier at home. I’m a special ed teacher, so, maybe I’m a little more understanding and structured. We are having him tested next week, but my fear is that he can go a good 2 weeks sometimes with little or no problems at school. Then out of the blue he will have issues. He sleeps great and doesn’t threaten us so I just don’t know what’s going on. He doesn’t have night terrors or think he can fly or anything like that. My question is …If he is ADHD, would he have a stretch of 2 good weeks? It seems like he would always be ADHD, right? Thanks so much!

This Disclaimer applies to the Answer Below
  • Dr. Schwartz responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
  • Dr. Schwartz intends his responses to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; answers should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).
  • Questions submitted to this column are not guaranteed to receive responses.
  • No correspondence takes place.
  • No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Schwartz to people submitting questions.
  • Dr. Schwartz, Mental Help Net and CenterSite, LLC make no warranties, express or implied, about the information presented in this column. Dr. Schwartz and Mental Help Net disclaim any and all merchantability or warranty of fitness for a particular purpose or liability in connection with the use or misuse of this service.
  • Always consult with your psychotherapist, physician, or psychiatrist first before changing any aspect of your treatment regimen. Do not stop your medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.

Hi Worried Mom,

 First, let me point out that it is good you are having him tested. You seem fearful that the testing could miss something but I doubt that. If you son has ADHD it will come through the testing loud and clear.

Second, I doubt that you are dealing with a Bipolar disorder because you have not mentioned any symptoms that would typify that. Of course, these things cannot be determined via the Internet and that is why the testing is a good idea.

Third, it is entirely possible that you are dealing with an issue of limit setting for you boy. He is only five years old and it might be that he is testing the limits. Without spanking or yelling, he needs to be told, with eye to eye contact, specifically what he is doing that is wrong and why it is wrong. This should be done immediately after the misbehavior. I am using the term “eye to eye” contact to mean that you, the parent need to kneel down on his level and tell him to look directly into your eyes. Then, in very concrete and specific terms, tell him what he did wrong and give the reason. If he does it again, take something away. You can insist on a genuine apology. All of this without hositilities from you, the adult.

By the way, even if he had ADHD the same applies. ADHD should be no excuse for bad behavior. Yes, it might explain it but not excuse it.

You are a special ed. teacher and you must know that the home environment is also important as it affects child behavior. Parental constant or chronic conflict, drinking, drug abuse, etc, can increase anxiety in children and cause problems. I am not implying that this is true of your home. I have no way of knowing but, am just pointing it out for the sake of being thorough.

Also, make certain that there is nothing at school that could be bothering him, such as someone who is bullying him, or, school work or homework that might bother him. I just heard of a case of a five year old kindergartener who gets homework that the parents pressure him to do. He becomes over-whelmed and cries.  After all, they are only five years old.

Good luck with the testing and with your child.

More "Ask Dr. Schwartz" View Columnists

  • Susan

    We are dealing with exactly the same problems with our 5 year old child. We are waiting for testing as well, but really do not know what to do.

    She does not behave in the same way to us at home. She only 'melts down' at school once every two weeks or so, but when she does she is terrible and the school does not know what to do. She is destructive and violent. The rest of the time she is a sweetheart, she has trouble with focus but is lovely and happy. We can normally see what caused her meltdown when we look back on it, but the school cannot walk round on eggshells all the time. Her problems are normally linked to some sort of friendship issue or anxiety around work. She is able to calm down immediately if I arrive or if one of the people at the school who she really trusts arrives (she had a meltdown today and unfortunately the 2 people in the school who can calm her down were away for the day).

    Did you get anywhere with this? Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated. The school is being great, but they can't continue to deal with this forever. I don't know what to do.


  • Susan

    I wish you the best. It isn't always easy being a parent. Does your child ever bite herself?

  • Anonymous-1

    My little one described above was diagnosed with ADHD and possibly ODD. We tried a stimulant and it made matters worse! Now we are trying a non-stimulant for ADHD. We are going to at least try some of the meds to see if they work, but it is so frustrating! It's just so hard to tell what's going on with these little people. Let me know what you find out with your little one too!

  • Michelle

    I am in the same boat as you other mothers, my 5 year old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets to daycare or school but when she gets home, she is fine. It seems to be getting worse, today is the second time in two weeks that I had to leave early from work to pick her up from daycare because she is refusing to listen, she shoved one child and was taunting another. She is continually talking back to her teacher, we have talked and talked and talked to her about that not being acceptable behaviour but nothing changes. I am lost, its so hard to see her like this. She is my only and she doesn't seem happy.


Call the Helpline Toll-FREE

To Get Treatment Options Now.

1-888-993-3112 Who Answers? 100% Confidential

Get Help For You or a Loved One Here...

Click Here for More Info.


Call The Toll-FREE Helpline 24/7 To Get Treatment Options Now.

100% Confidential
Get Treatment Options From Your Phone... Tap to Expand