Are we over medicating children? The #1 thing you need to know!

January 25th, 2012

Are you reaching for medication when your child has a problem, are your child’s teachers diagnosing your child, is your pediatrician recommending medication for your child? Here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision.

Think about the problems children have such as they are not paying attention at school, they may get really upset at their siblings and yell and hit, they may act out or shut down when they encounter a problem with school work, or say they don’t care. Perhaps they have a difficult time transitioning between homes if you are separated or they don’t listen, are disrespectful and moody.

There may be some underlying mood issues, anxiety problems, or attention difficulties, but as a parent you are really not quite sure.

Let’s say you go to your pediatrician’s office and ask questions. Your pediatrician may have studied mental disorders and will likely have the latest research available to them on what medications will fit the symptoms offered by pharmaceutical reps whose sole intention is to provide information to sell their product.  So your child appears to fit the criteria for anxiety, here is a pill and the problem should be resolved, right?

There is more to this picture, and when your child is having difficulties you want to make sure that you are addressing the issues, rather than masking the symptoms with a pill.

The #1 thing you need to know before you make the decision to medicate your child.

Is it a behavioral or communication issue?

The teacher at your child’s school thinks your child has ADHD because your child can’t sit still and focus. You notice your child rushes through their homework, they quickly answer questions and it’s sloppy, you try to help, but they just want to be done. A visit to the pediatrician’s office may lead to a label of ADHD and some medication. If your child is diagnosed correctly they now have the right medication to help them focus; but they will still need to learn strategies to help them think about choices and consequences, tools to help them stay on task during difficult situations, and help them organize and process information without getting upset.

However, children often end up in the doctor’s office for medication, when it is a behavioral or communication issue.

Let say you and your partner are inconsistent and give mixed messages to your child, especially during homework time, or you may become frustrated and yell at your child during homework time and now when they do school work they are fearful of your response and they shutdown.

Or perhaps your child has learned behaviors to manipulate and get out of school work that they don’t want to do (at school and at home). Maybe they are embarrassed to ask for help in school when they don’t understand, so it’s easier to act out. You may find that your child is focused and on-task in the afternoon class after recess, and cannot concentrate and gets into trouble daily in the class just before lunch.

Some parents want their child to focus and do homework right after school, but if your child has been at a desk all day they may want to run around or play with their toys/electronics, and it may be too difficult to focus on homework right then.

There are so many different variables in determining if it is a behavioral or communication issue, and if medication is right for your child.  Here’s what you can do as a parent to help make an informed decision.

  • Talk with each of your child’s teachers and find out how often the problem occurs, when, and with whom. Find out what are the consequences when they exhibit that behavior (you may find they are getting their needs met, such as getting more attention or 1:1 time).
  • Talk with other people who work with your child. Ask coaches, tutors, lesson teachers what behaviors that they see.
  • Observe your child with their peers, what behaviors do you notice?
  • Track the behaviors at home, when do they occur, how often, how intense are they, what was your child doing when it occurred, who else was there?
  • Track your and your partner’s/spouse’s (if applicable) responses before and after your child’s behaviors occur. What were you doing/saying, how did you react?

When you seek out help for your child you have a very clear picture of what’s happening, where and when. If the issues are communication or behavioral related a psychologist or therapist can help you and your child develop new coping strategies. If the issues are medical issues, this information will help your pediatrician or psychiatrist diagnose and find the right medication for your child. If you are unsure whether it is a medical related or behavioral/communication issue (or perhaps all three) set-up a consultation with a therapist or psychologist who specialize in working with children and families.

Whether or not you choose medication, there has been research on the benefits of therapy and the National Institute of Mental Health notes some disorders can be treated effectively through therapy alone. If you are in the Sarasota, Lakewood ranch, Bradenton, Venice Florida area and you would like more support we can help. Schedule a Support Consultation here.

If you don’t live in the area, don’t worry. I created parenting resources to help children and teens you can immediately download and implement to help your child.

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