In both toddlers and adults, a resting heart rate is defined as the number of times the heart beats each minute while the body is at rest. Heart rates can vary from person to person and depending on a person's age, fitness or health status. Your toddler's heart rate, therefore, may be different from yours.
In general, a normal heart rate for toddlers who are 1 to 2 years old is 80 to 130 beats per minute, while a normal heart rate for toddlers aged 3 to 4 is 80 to 120 beats per minute, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
How Our Heart Rates Vary With Age
Typically, our heart rates slow down as we age, says Amalia Guardiola, MD, an assistant professor with McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Case in point: By age 7, a child's resting heart rate will slow down to 70 to 110 beats per minute, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and by the time a child reaches adulthood, their heart rate will range from about 60 to 100 beats per minute.
Well-trained athletes tend to have lower resting heart rates, too. For some, a normal pulse is 40 to 60 beats per minute, in part because their hearts are better able to maintain a steady heartbeat compared to people who don't work out as often, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
How to Measure Your Toddler's Heart Rate
"We typically don't recommend parents take their child's heart rate unless the child isn't acting normally or is feeling ill," says Dr. Guardiola. But if you suspect something is wrong — for example, a fast pulse could be caused by an underlying infection or dehydration — you may want to check your child's heart rate.
The best places to find a pulse are on the wrist, on the inside of the elbow, on the side of the neck or on the top of the foot, according to the AHA. Take a finger and place it over the pulse, then count the number of beats that you hear during the next 60 seconds. The number of pulses you feel should give you an accurate resting heart rate for your toddler. A good time to check anyone's heart rate is in the morning or after they've been resting for at least 10 minutes.
Ideally, your toddler should stay calm and relaxed while you measure their pulse. Movements or strong emotions, for example, can raise the heart rate, according to the AHA.
What Heart Rate Results Could Mean
Heart rate disorders are referred to as arrhythmias. A resting pulse that's too low is called bradycardia, whereas a resting pulse that's too high is called tachycardia. There are multiple causes of pulses that are either too high or too low.
The most common type of arrhythmia in kids is an atrial or supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), according to the AHA, which occurs when the heart's upper chambers send out abnormal signals, resulting in a faster-than-normal pulse. (Other symptoms of SVT include dizziness, lightheadedness and chest discomfort.) The AHA also points out that, for most children, SVT isn't a life-threatening problem and may not even require treatment.
Read more: How to Determine Your Baseline Heart Rate
If You Suspect Your Toddler Has an Abnormal Heart Rate
If your toddler consistently has a higher or lower heart rate than what's considered normal, talk to your pediatrician. He or she may recommend an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), a test that can measure the electrical currents in the heart. By measuring the electrical activity that's passing through the heart muscle, a doctor can detect if parts of the heart are overworked, according to the AHA. Other times, says Dr. Guardiola, doctors can use a Holter monitor (a portable EKG-like device) to record the heart activity for 24 hours a day for a few days straight.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Pulse"
- American Heart Association: "All About Heart Rate (Pulse)"
- American Heart Association: "Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Arrhythmias"
- American Heart Association: "Tachycardia: Fast Heart Rate"
- American Heart Association: "Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)"
- American Heart Association: "Holter Monitor"
- American Heart Association: "Types of Arrhythmia in Children"