And some famlies seek a diagnosis in order to get more cash from benefits, it has been claimed.
Toddlers are being prescribed drugs to tackle conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and academics fear naughtiness is being misdiagnosed as a serious medical condition.
Child psychologist David Traxson, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the field, claims at least 100 three, four and five-year-olds in the West Midlands are on drugs like Ritalin.
“These young children are taking powerful, potentially addictive drugs and no-one knows what will happen to their brains in the future,” he warned.
“Doctors seem to be trying to shift more and more children into clinical treatment and this is very dangerous.”
Educational psychology expert Sue Morris, from the University of Birmingham, says huge advances have been made in diagnosing mental health issues among kids, but she fears drugs are being given to children who are too young.
“It’s not uncommon for the diagnosis of ADHD to be made based on parental reports without observation of the child in a home and school environment,” she said.
“The prescription of drugs certainly shouldn’t be the first step in treating the disorder.
“Sometimes drugs are being used in the absence of talking, of therapy and psychological assistance, and that is wrong.
“The prescription of drugs like Ritalin to the under-fives is against the guidelines set down by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).
“I’ve encountered cases were under-fives have been prescribed medication to deal with ADHD. That shouldn’t be happening.
“It’s a difficult disease to diagnose in young children.
“Any medication that affects developing brains carries inherent risks, and handing out drugs to children who are below the age of six, as set out in the guide lines, is dangerous.”
Around 660,000 prescriptions for Ritalin are dished out annually in Britain to treat childhood ADHD.
Ritalin is banned for recreational use in the UK and side-effects can include stunted growth, heart problems, depression and insomnia.
According to NHS figures, the number of children aged eight to 13 on drugs such as Ritalin has undergone a sevenfold increase from the 92,700 kids put on similar drugs in 1997. One family in the West Midlands has two children on medication for ADHD.
They receive GBP600 a month in disability allowances for each of the two children diagnosed.
Ms Morris believes cash can be a factor in a family seeking an ADHD diagnosis.
“Sometimes, financial factors play a part,” she said. “The disabled living allowance gives an incentive to some famies who want a diagnosis so they can receive increased benefits.”
Last week the father of 10-year-old Harry Hucknall, from Cumbria, who hung himself last September, revealed he had made a formal complaint to the NHS.
He blames Harry’s death on drugs prescribed for his boisterous behaviour. An inquest in April ruled out a deliberate suicide, but said the influence of Ritalin and Prozac could not be excluded as a factor in Harry’s death.