Medication can be a forbidden word for some parents. Not all medication, like pills that help kids sleep better, manage allergies, or reduce cold symptoms, or any other medication that is prescribed for common childhood illnesses. Just medication for things like anxiety, depression, ADHD, or other mental illnesses. When it comes to their children, most parents care a great deal about what goes into their son’s or daughter’s growing body. Whether it is food, topical products (think sunscreen), or some prescribed drug, most parents only want the best for their children. If their child is going to ingest a food, take a medication, or spray on bug repellant, parents want those items to be helpful and not hurtful. So when it comes to giving children or teens medication for a mental health struggle, many parents often battle with the idea; thinking that the decision to do so may cause more harm than good. I’m a parent. I understand and would have the same concerns. But working with children, teens, and adults, as a clinical psychotherapist for well over a decade, I professionally understand that there are valid reasons to consider medication and often plenty of benefits from taking them. For more information on that, check out my article: Reasons Why You Should Medicate Your Child. There are many valid reasons to consider consulting with a pediatrician, Primary Care Physician (PCP), child and adolescent psychiatrist, or other mental health providers if your child is having symptoms of a mental health issue.
However, this article is focused on interventions parents should put in place if they DO NOT want to medicate their child. I suggest visiting a professional to help you figure what is best for your child. Maybe you have already sought out professional support and are looking for ways to support your child. Or maybe you just have your mind made up and you know medication is not an option. No judgment either way. Whatever side of the road you’re traveling, it is imperative for you to put effective support in place if you choose not to give your child medication.
Many parents make the option to not support their child with pharmaceutical drugs. However, those same parents do not take the steps to identify the right interventions, therapies, changes in household structure, academic routines, or other adjustments that are necessary to support their son or daughter’s success without medication. It’s like the mom who tells her 3-year-old child to “calm down”, but doesn’t give him the steps, coaching, or scaffolding to learn how to calm down. Parents are responsible for making sure their children have the right support in place. And in some cases, parents need to be willing to take on a great deal of the work to support and bring about the change their son or daughter needs.
I must acknowledge that not all kids need a prescription to manage a social, emotional, mental, or behavioral health problem. Some issues can be solely addressed and supported with alternative interventions, like the suggestions mentioned in this article
A parent can be a key component to the success or failure of a child. You should examine if your words, behavior, or parenting style is helping your child or hindering your them. Some parents need advice and specific methods to support certain issues. Maybe your natural parenting style isn’t a good fit for your child’s temperament or issue. You may need to make small tweaks or large adjustments in your parenting style to best support your child and his or her challenge. For example, I see parents (some who have experienced anxiety themselves) who indirectly enable their anxious child. They give in to the fear the child is emotionally expressing. They do not push the child when he or she needs to work through an anxious moment versus backing away from it.
There is a time to nurture an anxious child and there is a time to push her through the anxiety. If you have an anxious child, it is important to know how to manage this crucial balance, so that your parenting role is helping them understand their anxiety and ultimately manage it. Consider a parenting book or class. There is an entire section in any major bookstore. Loveandlogic.com offers resources like books and classes that parents can take to gain skills to better parent their child.
Some mental health disorders require learning new behaviors to counter the perpetuation of the current issue. Depression and dysregulated mood are good examples. Depression can have a major impact on adolescents. But learning what to do when certain feelings arise can help reduce or eliminate problematic thoughts or behaviors. Therapy is a good place to start. Find a professional that can help identify what skills need to be gained, and work with that person and your child to develop a plan that is the best for him or her.
Some kids are smart, kind, funny, and hard workers. But they are disorganized. So are some parents…always losing things, keeping a messy house, or running late. Again, no judgment, I often run late myself! But those things can affect your child. If you have a child with ADHD, disorganization can greatly hinder them and structure can help them. Examine areas of your child’s life and of your household that needs some structure and organization. Schedules and charts seem cliche, but create a huge improvement!
Consult with a professional that can give you specific ways to get organized. Or just call up that super structured friend that plans each minute and has a bin for everything…She’ll know how to help!
Mindfulness, Breathing, and Body Awareness
Learning mindfulness, meditation, breathing, and yoga techniques can be extremely beneficial in teaching kids how to become more self-aware, slow down, regulate strong feelings, and deal with discomfort. Take your child to a yoga class specially designed for kids or teens. Or visit a mental health specialist (like me!) who incorporates these things into therapy. You can even find a video online, or on TV, and practice the techniques at home.
Do you spend enough time with your child? Maybe the answer is, yes. But if it isn’t you need to find the time. A little goes a long way. No matter how busy your work schedule is, how many extra-curricular activities your child has, or how much you travel, there is always a way to find 15 minutes of quality, unplugged (no cell phones allowed), focused time with your child. Kids need your time and attention, and (believe it or not) so do teens. No matter the age, life as a kid in this day and age can be stressful. Your son or daughter wants to talk to you. They need to talk to you and you need to be there to listen. When kids feel supported, it can leave them feeling more positive and confident or better able to face a difficult feeling or situation. It doesn’t have to be every day. Start with 15 minutes a week, then consider more often, if you can. Again, if you are genuine, truly present and engaged in the moment with them, a little goes a long way!
Education and Support
Pediatricians, psychologists, and therapists can help. So can friends and family, if they are the right friends and family! Seeks out other parents or support groups (in person and online) where you can chat with parents who have kids that have experienced the same issue. Get information from articles like this one or books on the specific challenge your child is experiencing. Education and support are extremely important whether you chose medication or not.
Although there are options of useful non-pharmaceutical alternatives, there are many valid reasons to consider medication. Consult with a pediatrician, PCP, child and adolescent psychiatrist, or other mental health providers, if your child is having symptoms of a mental health issue and you think medication could help. For more information on that, check out my article: Reasons Why You Should Medicate Your Child. However, if you choose not to use medication to support your son’s or daughter’s mental health issue, be sure to educate yourself and establish interventions that will assist him or her make the positive improvements they need.