Starting a child on medicine for behavior is not an easy decision. In fact, when a behavioral or mental health condition is identified, behavior therapy and parent skills training are often first-line treatments. When medications are needed, here are some key take home points for parents to keep in mind.
Take the time to express your feelings about medicines in general, what you have read about or know about a particular medicine and any concerns you have. If you forget something that was said or have lingering questions when you leave the doctor’s office, make sure to write them down and call the office with questions. Ask for a fact sheet so you can review the information at home and talk with other caregivers, family and the child. I often tell parents that they are “in the driver’s seat” and because they know their child the best, they will need to be my eyes and ears so I can know whether the medicine is working the way we expect.
Medicines should not be viewed as a “quick fix”. I tell parents that medicine for behavior are like the band-aid, it can help in the short-term, but we must always talk about behavior therapy, parent training, family therapy and/or educational supports to help the child and the family learn skills that can be useful and used even without medicine. If we want to give children the chance to be off medicine, we need to teach them the skills they need to succeed. We also need to equip parents with skills on how to support the child.
When we start medicines, it is never with the goal of “turning kids into zombies.” If this happens, the doctor needs to know this right away.
Before you leave the clinic, make sure you understand / know:
- What condition the medicine is for
- The name of the medicine
- When to start and how often to give the medicine each day
- How to know if the medicine is working
- What to do if child refuses, throws up or doesn’t take the full dose
- What side effects to watch for
- How long will it take for the medicine to work
- How long the child is expected to take the medicine
- When to call the doctor’s office
- How to get refills
If you do not know any of the answers to the above questions, make sure to ask. Make sure to check out this handout to understanding prescriptions and this handout on understanding medicine labels. Often times if your child needs to take the medicine during the school day, your child’s doctor will need to write a note or fill out a specific form for the school. The medicine should be sent to school in a medicine bottle with the child’s name and directions clearly printed. You can ask the pharmacist to print an extra label and give you a second bottle so you can separate out the medicine for home and school. Make sure you know how to check in with the school nurse and teacher.
Keep a Medication Log, especially the first few days of starting a new medicine or whenever the medicine dose is changed.
Important things to keep track of are:
what time the medicine is given,
what positive effects the medicine has,
what side effects (if any) are seen, and
any other notes you think is important to share with the child’s doctor.
Some medicines may have most effect while the child is at school. If so, ask the child’s teacher whether they have noticed any changes in how the child is learning or behaving.
Pediatricians will talk with the school-age child about the medicine in child-friendly terms before leaving the office. Encourage your child to share their feelings about taking the medicine and whether they have any side effects from the medicine once you get home.
Your child’s doctor will want to ask the parent and teacher to complete behavior rating scales at regular intervals to ensure the medicine is working the way it should be.
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RELATED: Behavior Therapy for Children (Healthychildren.org)