For those of you reading my series of Medication & Behavior Handouts for Patient Education for the first time with this post, please make sure to read my first one (ADHD Medication Handout: Atomoxetine) to review the background of what to keep in mind when starting a medication for behavior.

One of the most commonly used medications for ADHD is methylphenidate. Methylphenidate is a stimulant medication. There are different types of methylphenidate, based on the company that makes it, if it is a capsule, tablet, liquid or patch and how long it lasts. Some of the types include: Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, Quillivant, Methylin and Daytrana.

The pediatrician will talk with you about the different options of methylphenidate. It is often the most commonly used stimulant medication for preschoolers.

Sometimes parents ask why a stimulant would be started for a child with ADHD who is already hyper and “on the go.” I like to explain that the medicine works on the part of the brain that needs more of the chemical, dopamine, to help a child organize, focus and stay still. The medicine works by “revving” up the areas in the brain because some times those areas don’t have enough of the dopamine to do what it needs to do.

Depending on which type is started, medicine can be expected to have effects that are short (3-5 hours), medium (6-8 hours) or long (8-12 hours). The doctor will talk with you about what your child’s day is typically like and whether medicine can be given by a parent or at school or when children typically get on the bus or come home. They will likely ask whether your child can swallow medicine. Some of the types of methylphenidate (capsules) can be opened and sprinkled into a tablespoon of applesauce or given with a spoonful of Hershey’s syrup. Still others (liquid) must be kept in the refrigerator and shaken before using a medicine syringe to draw out the exact amount. Another type is a patch that you apply on the child’s skin two hours before you want the effects to start and wear for 9 hours per day. All of these details will be used to make recommendations on which type to start. It is important that whenever medicine is started that you keep track of how the child’s body responds. The doctor is likely to ask the parent to take some notes at first using a Medication Log.

REMEMBER, medications are just ONE part of the treatment plan for managing behavior. Pediatricians will usually make the recommendation to do medicine PLUS therapy or therapy alone as a first choice.

RELATED: Will ADHD Medication Change my Child’s Brain? (Child Mind Institute)

The information included on the Methylphenidate handout is what I typically review with families when we start this medication.


I find that handouts can be used to start a conversation and make sure everyone has the same information.

ALSO, advice given on my blog about medications is NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL ADVICE by your child’s physician. Always talk to your child’s doctor directly about their thoughts on the appropriate medicine and other treatments for your child’s ADHD. Medicine is just one type of treatments available. 

As always please feel free to leave feedback on the handout so I can continually improve! Hope you find this helpful!

RELATED: Common ADHD Medications & Treatments for Children (

Keep on reading: ADHD Medication for Children: Dosages, Risks and More (


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Written by

Nerissa Bauer

I am a behavioral pediatrician, consultant, child advocate and blogger. I am a wife, mommy to 2 amazing children and 2 golden retrievers. Love cooking, travel, reading, tap and creating.