When Should You Medicate Your Child?

sage reading

As if I knew the answer to that question, right?  I have Googled this very question, paraphrased in various ways, more than once.  Heck, perhaps that’s how you landed here now.   If so, like you I have wondered and struggled and suffered through deciding.  I have sat across from my wife, daughter, her pediatrician, teachers, and mentors in tears, wondering how to best help our little girl.  As a social worker who started her career working with kids, and often with kids on medication, I was not the biggest fan.  I saw kids over-medicated, diagnosed too soon or misdiagnosed.  I watched parents pressured into putting their kids on medication to stay in school.  I saw the helplessness and pain in parents’ eyes as they struggled with the very same decisions.

Twenty years later, some protections help parents better make these decisions.  Our schools cannot require (or try to) medication like they once did.  Our teachers are better trained in special needs and responsive learning environments.  Parents cannot be steered out of services by “how much they cost” or told the services cannot be offered for the same reason.  In many ways, my family is navigating a kinder special-needs world because of the work others did before us.

But still, should we medicate?

Our then-kindergartener could learn and was pulling home decent scores in most areas.  When she couldn’t perform, it was because of a diagnosis related reason that made sense.  For example, she cannot retell a story to you that she just read.  Now, ask her to act it out and she’ll give you a full on verbatim performance complete with inflection, props and cues.  Please just don’t ask her to tell you about it.

Our now first-grader can do addition, when her body can stay near the paper long enough to take in the equation, assemble or draw the items she started with, those she was adding, pause to pick her nails, go to the bathroom and climb the furniture.  Grr… now so much time has passed we need to start it from the beginning.  Five minutes of homework would take an hour, if it got done at all.

When I was a clinical social worker with children, I had one little girl I worked with who struggled immensely.  Referring her for a consultation with the psychiatrist was a painful choice, as I knew the kids I sent in almost always came out with a script.  When they saw me too weeks after that consult, mom and daughter both were beaming.  The relief she felt was almost instantaneous.  Mom was so grateful.  It was as if they found each other, and what was “underneath it all.”

That was what convinced us to ask about meds for Sage, knowing the relief she, not we as parents, but she as the little girl actually living with ADHD, might feel.  The clean diet didn’t have much impact.  Behavior charts need a commitment she didn’t have.  Time outs weren’t cutting it and she knew more than she could show.

It’s like watching our daughter bloom out of the beautiful bud we’ve been loving and nurturing along.  Each day brings new gifts that remind us that for her, this was the right choice.

  • Directly asking her brother to play with him
  • Cracking a joke she made up on her own
  • Finishing her homework in less than 30 minutes
  • Telling us what she wants directly, and sometimes even with manners
  • Initiating a request
  • Being cued into her body’s signals (to eat, drink, use the restroom)
  • Less screaming and crying out, more words and expressions of what’s wrong
  • Eye contact

She still climbs all over the furniture, though we notice fewer accidents.  She still needs help to know where her body ends and others’ begin.  She doesn’t sleep well, and her appetite is wonky.  It’s not everything.  Plus, the meds help her ADHD tremendously, but don’t really touch Autism.  Yet, it seems her meds are giving her a chance to be fully her, the best her she can be.

Over time with ADHD, the body begins producing more Dopamine on its own, and according to her psychiatrist, that’s with medication or without, and medication doesn’t get in the way of its production.  In shorthand, ADHD improves over time in most children.  The question to ask is how long you have to wait, the consequences of waiting or not waiting, and what skills and knowledge they can learn (or won’t be able to learn) while you’re waiting.  As their brains are bursting with capacity to take in all sorts of stuff they need in life, we wanted to give her a chance to take it in.  For us, every day, we’re so grateful we did.

3 thoughts on “When Should You Medicate Your Child?

  1. Thanks for your post! Our daughter also has ADHD, and meds make the world of difference for her, too. It was a hard decision to arrive at, but in a way, maybe it shouldn’t be so hard for parents, at least with ADHD. The meds are SO effective, have few side effects (at least once the dosage is right), and have been shown to be safe over many years now. No parent out there would have to struggle with the choice of whether to give their kid insulin and few even struggle over whether to give their kid tylenol for a fever. I have started being very open about our decision in hopes of making it easier for the next parents, and I am so glad that you doing it so publicly here. It really would have been unfair to our daughter not to give her the meds because without them, she would be unable to participate in school and all of her relationships would suffer.


  2. It is a very personal decision. Make the best one for you and your family. Things sound like it is working out. Our son was diagnosed with ADD at the age of 3 and we began medication at the age of 6, in first grade. He would not sit still in school so how could he learn. We do not tell people or friends about the medication and it was our choice. Your children and you know them best. Good look, especially as you navigate through special education and supports.


  3. So very happy to hear you’ve had a positive experience!! This is SUCH a hard decision for any parent to make. Thank you for sharing your story!


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