Medication. Children. Two words that do not stir up too much controversy. But put the two words together, medication and children, and most parents balk at the idea of giving their kiddo any type of drug…
Oh, wait, except medication for the common cold, or strep throat, or for their allergies, or for their asthma. Or for seizures, diabetes, GI issues, eczema, pinkeye or, any other childhood illness in which a primary care physician (PCP) or pediatrician prescribes medication.
So maybe we need to get more specific. Many parents are very hesitant to give their child medicinal support if they have a son or daughter who struggles with Anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), some dysregulation in moods, like depression, or any other mental illness. In some cases, rightfully so.
“It is critical for parents to know when and why they should consider medication.”
But whether you choose to treat a childhood mental health issue with a pill prescription or other nonmedicinal options, like therapy, it is important to know when you should consult a professional about pharmaceutical options.
A parent myself, I understand. I am hesitant to load my daughter with pill after pill. As a professional, I respect this position and this transfers into my work supporting families.
Check out my article Steps to Take if You DON’T Want to Medicate Your Child. That article includes some of the interventions parents should put in place if they DO NOT want to medicate their child.
It is imperative for parents to put effective support in place if they choose not to give their children medication.
However, it is critical for parents to know when and why they should consider medication. Although there are effective alternatives, there are many valid reasons to support your child with a regimen of medicine monitored by a professional.
Managing Imbalances Can Improve Quality of Life
Some mental health issues involve physiological, neurological, and chemical imbalances that are best supported by medication.
Similar to some of the common childhood illness I listed above, like diabetes, epilepsy, or asthma, some children with mental health issues need medication to feel “normal” or their best self.
For example, if a child has asthma, he or she may not understand what it is to truly breathe clearly until she uses an inhaler or other medications that keep her lungs clear.
She could take dance classes, or play soccer and have some difficulty breathing while being active. But that difficulty breathing could hinder her confidence, success, or even joy while playing.
I see teens that have struggled with anxiety or ADHD for years. His or her confidence or life experiences have been altered by untreated symptoms of mental health.
Many symptoms are out of their control and are caused by neurological or chemical imbalances. When it comes to medication for asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy, parents do not hesitate to use medication to help reduce or eliminate discomfort, improve quality of life, or help keep their child alive.
Even if you ultimately decide against medication, consider speaking to a professional to determine if medication can address an imbalance deeper than therapy alone can address.
Managing physiological, neurological, and chemical imbalances related to mental illness can improve a child’s quality of life.
Some disorders, for example, like Anxiety and Depression have a strong biological predisposition. A Biological Predisposition means that based on our family (parents, aunt, uncles, and grandparents) and the genes we get from them, there is a greater chance of developing a certain physical or mental illness, or pattern of behavior.
If other family members struggled with anxiety or depressed mood and medication helped them; there is a good chance that a child who shows similar related symptoms may benefit.
Consider medication if your child has a strong family history of anxiety, depression or any other mental illness.
Side Effects Often Subside
I often hear parents say things like, “I don’t want my child to be a Zombie” or “Medications have so many side effects”
First, I don’t see many children walking around like zombies, do you? TV or movies don’t count!
Second, most medications have side effects. But most medicines indicate that the benefits outway the risks or side effects. Many side effects diminish within a matter of days or weeks.
If a side effect does not subside, then medication can always be discontinued after consulting your child’s doctor.
Some physicians are starting to use new technology that allows them to use Genetic Testing to determine the best medication for your child. It only takes a quick swab of the inner cheek and a little patience (tests typically take 10-14 days to return results).
It’s not a perfect science, but it can help eliminate the trial and error process that can deter parents from exploring the medication option.
Medication is Not Always Permanent
It is easy to think that if your child starts medication, he or she will be taking it for the rest of his or her life. In some cases, medication is needed long-term. But in other cases, medication helps “open the door” to other encouraging change.
I have worked with some clients that were unable to do some of the therapeutic work or gain insights needed to make progress because their depression was so impending.
But, after a short period of time, medication helped them increase their mood enough to complete therapeutic work that greatly improved their quality of life enough to stop the medication.
“It’s easy to think if your child starts medication, they will be taking it for the rest of their life.”
It is good to be reminded that, with the support of a doctor, medication can be stopped at any time. Long-term use is not always required to see positively maintained results.
As I mentioned above, it is imperative for you, a parent, to put effective support in place if you do not want to medicate your child.
Although there are useful alternatives (see my article, Steps to Take if You Don’t Want to Medicate Your Child), there are many valid reasons to consider and 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.
You may not leave with a prescription, but hopefully, you’ll feel like you’ve been thorough and diligent when it comes to giving your child the best health care and support you can.
For more parenting tips, tricks, and advice check out our book “Southeast Psych’s Guide for Imperfect Parents!”