Medicating kids for behavioral problems is a hot-button issue. Is medication effective at helping kids, or is it just “big pharma” trying to maximize profits? Can you trust that medication will help your child?

How Medication Can Help

Medications can be extremely effective at improving a child's mood and behavior. If your child is so angry or anxious he can't function or get along with people, short-term medication has the advantage of providing the necessary “breathing room” for learning new behaviors and employing other, more long-lasting solutions.

A child with ADHD may benefit from medication that helps him pay attention in school so he can do better and be less frustrated. A child who has alienated potential friends can have a chance, through medication, to build social skills and learn how much fun it is to have friends, motivating him to continue friendly behaviors and forming habits that can be built on later, after medication is tapered off. Similarly, if a child is depressed and suicidal, medication can elevate his mood, decreasing the chance of suicide; meanwhile, the child can undergo therapy and learn to cope with the trauma and other factors in his life that have led him to become so depressed.

If your child is going to need long-term medication for a mental health condition that is unlikely to improve through therapy or by ignoring the problem, talk with the psychiatrist about your child's condition and educate yourself fully about what you can expect long-term. There is no cure for some types of disorders, and medication is the only option that can help a person lead a full life.

Cautionary Statements

However, there is a great deal of distrust today in psychiatric medications, because kids are often misdiagnosed and wrongly or overly medicated. To decrease the chance that this will happen to your child, be sure that the treating professional knows the full scope of what's been happening in your child's life, and work with a professional you trust and who seems to be paying attention to you and your child. Only a child psychiatrist should prescribe psychiatric medications to a child; a pediatrician does not spend enough time evaluating the child to make an accurate psychiatric evaluation and prescription.


Do not take your child off psychiatric medications or tinker with the dosage without consulting the psychiatrist. Sudden withdrawal from some psychiatric medications can cause death. If you would like to decrease or stop medication, or if you can't fill the next prescription because you'll be on vacation or can't pay for it, consult with the psychiatrist first.

In addition, very few psychiatric medications have been evaluated and approved by the FDA for use on children. If your child's psychiatrist suggests medication, ask if you can have a conversation with her about the diagnosis, prognosis, and why a particular medication is recommended. Ask how long it will take before you notice a change in behavior. Ask about the side effects and cost. Ask if there are any warning signs to look for, because some depression medications have a worsening effect in kids, and can actually darken their mood instead of lighten it. Finally, if your child will need medication, tell your child that you love him and want the best for him, and that you and the doctor believe that the medication will help him feel more comfortable.

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