Medication for the ADHD child: Why or why not?

There was a situation going on at our house that was spiraling out of control in a hurry.  Simple tasks like meal time, reading a book and going outside to play required an extreme level of assistance and guidance.  The dog eating supper at the same time as us would make P stop his meal to watch the dog as she happily munched away.  Her tail wagging would make P so focused and so excited that his own dinner was soon forgotten.  Reading a book was a major decision that most nights would end up in tears.  Playing outside one of children’s rite of passages offered too many chances to roam and wander.  The mental effort required for the tasks was an inordinate amount that made our whole house exhausted.  The instances brought us to our knees.

We were seeing a developmental doctor at the time who was an advocate for letting us try everything before we have the discussion on adding medication to our routine.  We talked about sensory tools, healthy sleep practices, counseling, therapy, diet changes, and making sure screen time was limited.  Our house gave it the ‘ol college try with bedtime routines, checklists, therapy and counseling appointments, diet changes the whole nine yards.  Yet, we still were having the same spiraling issues.  I will forever be grateful to the doctor who sat with me and said, “You’ve done a fantastic job.  Let’s talk about medication.”  Never not once was our decision to use medication shamed, shunned, or questioned.  That was healing for my heart when it was hurting so much from all of the time-outs, apologies, and redirections.

But what if it was not so easy to make the choice to use medication for yourself and/or your kids.  Even though we had the most gentle, kind-spirited developmental doctor, it was still a huge blow to admit that what we were doing was not enough.  We needed something more to help P and to help our family.  I understand the role the medication plays for P to function throughout his day.  Medication can help him accept schedule changes, manage anxiety in an appropriate way, and focus on what others are saying and doing to make it through the day without a meltdown. On the broader scope, I understand how the medication can help our family function in a more positive way.  Better able to control impulses, less arguing, more willing to participate in family outings.

My advice for when it comes to the question of do we medicate or do we not medicate?  Don’t beat yourself up over the choice.  You know your child best, and you have to do what is best for your child and your family.  Does that mean you talk to a pediatrician or a therapist?  Sure, if you have questions or feelings that you are struggling to deal with.  These professionals can help answer questions, weigh the pros and cons, and help you sort out of the feelings.  Some things to take into account 1) Is your child’s daily activities impacted?  2) Where is your child’s mental health?  What about yours?

There are definite non-medicine ways to help the ADHD child.  Explore them, research them, try them out, ask questions, and be prepared for some great learning experiences.  Here are some examples:

  • Parenting groups/books
  • Sensory tools
  • Heavy work
  • Therapy
  • Diet changes
  • Less screen time
  • Counseling
  • Healthy sleep habits

But even after implementing non-med choices and you can see your child is struggling and your struggling parenting, maybe it is time to visit more about possible med choices.

Ignore those who nothing about parenting an ADHD child.  Let me say this, do not listen to the people who are saying “If you only . . .” I will shout it from the rooftops, “Do not listen to the people who are saying “If you only try harder, yell less, parent better than you wouldn’t have these problems.”  Seriously?  No one knows what you do for your child.  Believe you me, I have heard the tsk, tsk of “If that were my son, I would …”.  Fill in the blank with providing a better diet, read more books, play outside, played more, played less, less technology, or just take away the toys.  My two favorites that burn my britches are “If you would just tell him No” and “If you would just spank him” then he’d pay attention.

Has the medication game changed our lives?  In some ways yes and in some ways no.  I hate having to fight with insurance to justify why we are trying the fifth medication in eight months.  I hate having to explain to the school that with every new med can you please help me watch out for symptoms–headaches, stomaches, drowsiness, lethargy, nausea.  Can you imagine having to coach a child through nausea symptoms saying it is something that will pass in a day or two?  My heart breaks in million pieces.  Then, on the other hand, I have seen how the medication helps my child focus during the day.  He can complete work, he can engage with his peers, and participate in class.  I have seen first hand the ups and downs of the medication.  That is why I know it is an extremely personal decision and I respect that.


All my best to you,



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