Many parents ask when is it appropriate to medicate a child. Many have strong opinions about benefits, side effects and lifelong effects of medications. My thoughts on this debate vary depending on the age, symptoms, family structure and child’s characteristics.
When looking at family structure it is important to consider what strategies or changes could be put in place before considering a medication. For example, adding structure at home with consistent routines for meals and bedtimes can sometimes be a simple way to help a child regulate emotions and behavior. This means the adults have to slow down enough to implement the needed structure.
Adding medications as a first response to behavioral or emotional issues is not my preference. Seeking behavioral support from a clinical social worker or professional counselor to help look at what factors may be exacerbating the symptoms would be a better first step. There have also been behavioral support agencies popping up over the past 5 years. These agencies have staff trained in behavioral support and work with families on increasing pro-social behaviors and decreasing negative behaviors. There are even some grant-supported programs out there for young children. Ask your pediatrician for more information.
When taking symptoms and child’s characteristics into consideration I often ask parents, if they have exhausted the behavioral supports and have a structured environment, to see if the behaviors are impacting the child socially and educationally. Socially, are the behaviors resulting in the child being excluded from activities? When the behaviors or anxiety are causing alienation, severe withdrawal or avoidance it may be time to consider medication. Educationally, if the child is missing out on important information due to inattention, anxiety, withdrawal or avoidance that is greatly impacting their learning medication may need to be considered.
There is not a right or wrong formula to whether or not to try medication. Taking into consideration all of these factors and talking with your child’s counselor, pediatrician, or child psychiatrist can help make the best decision for your family.