By Zipporah Neuman, LGSW
Throughout the process of deciding whether or not you should medicate your child, you will come across people who present this decision as a simple solution to a big problem. However, for many parents, the process of making this decision can be excruciating . All kinds of questions, thoughts and feelings run through a parent’s mind. You may feel hesitation, reluctance, ambivalence, trepidation, or even guilt. You want to help your child, but you may also be worrying about how medication will affect your child.
Children can be medicated for an array of struggles; however, the most common issues for which children are medicated today are ADD, ADHD, anxiety and depression. These diagnoses are very common. For example, as many as one in every 30 children suffers from depression. Approximately 9.5% of children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD (boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls). Parents of 2.7 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 (66.3%) have chosen to provide medication to their children with ADHD.
Here are some questions to consider before medicating your child:
- How is this issue affecting my child socially? How is this issue impacting my child academically?
- Is this issue impeding on my child’s ability to succeed?
- Is this issue present in multiple domains (in home as well as at school)?
- Could there be something else impacting my child’s behavior? Is my child eating properly, and/or getting enough sleep?
- Have there been changes in my child’s environment or within the family dynamics? Has there been a birth, divorce, death, marriage or a move?
- Could my child have a learning disability?
- Have I tried behavioral techniques such as incentives, responsibilities, accountability or therapy?
- Is this behavior developmentally appropriate for my child’s age?
After considering these questions, consult your pediatrician. He or she may order basic blood work to eliminate organic conditions. For example, a thyroid disorder can present symptoms that resemble depression. A pediatrician may prescribe medication temporarily and/or refer your child to a psychiatrist to receive an in-depth assessment. A psychiatric evaluation is important because some problems can be disguised by other struggles. For example, a child who is experiencing difficulty focusing in school may be exhibiting symptoms that resemble depression or anxiety because he is performing poorly academically, when in fact he really has ADD.
Once a medical diagnosis had been made, here are some questions that you may want to discuss with the psychiatrist in deciding whether to medicate your child.
- What are the possible side effects I should look for? Will medication impact my child’s level of energy? Will it affect my child’s personality?
- Is there an issue of drug dependence?
- What should we do if the medication does not work?
- What if my child does not want to keep taking her medication?
- When do we re-evaluate?
- How do I explain this to my child? Does my child have a choice?
The most essential ingredient in this process is ensuring that you make an informed decision. It has to be a decision that you, the parent, feels at peace with. It is important to have realistic expectations for how treatment will work. Medication is often used in conjunction with therapy. Just as an adult needs to put in a lot of work and effort to change a habit or behavior, so, too, your child will need to do the same. Remember that medicine is not magic, so remain patient. If your child’s behavior may be testing the limits of your patience, take the time to ask yourself, am I receiving the help and support I need to get through this trying time? Evaluate what you need to do for yourself, to be the most giving and patient parent you can be. Your child will reap the benefits.
By Zipporah Neuman, LGSW, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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