Contributed by: Terry Matlen, ACSW (Posted on
Recently, a parent came to me, conflicted over whether to follow
her pediatrician's recommendation of placing her young son on
medication. His difficult behaviors had escalated in recent years
and after trying behavioral strategies and food elimination diets,
there simply hadn't been much progress in his maintaining himself.
His behavior at school was deteriorating to the point where the
teachers were concerned about his progress academically,
psychologically and socially. When the medication suggestion came
up, Jane (not her real name) was distraught.
"Drugs scare me", she said. "I guess it's an option I need to think
about, but I'm not happy about it".
All the hard work in the world will not, with few exceptions,
change a child's neurology or biochemistry. Asking a child with,
say attention deficit disorder, to try harder and concentrate,
veritably backfires. Studies show that the part of the brain
involved in executive functioning actually shuts down when forced
to work harder than one is capable of doing.
The child with bipolar or other psychiatric conditions often simply
can't "turn off her feelings". The autistic child who is
overwhelmed by the onslaught of stimuli can't always find ways to
self-calm and self-regulate his behaviors.
Under these conditions, it's important for parents to begin working
through their own feelings about medications. Many reluctant
parents worry that their child will be "drugged" into compliance.
Or that he may become dependant or even addicted to medications.
But in reality, what we discover is that these children NEED that
external control- medication- to help them normalize. No child
likes to feel out of control, different, depressed or anxious.
Using medication as a way to help them feel IN control can change a
child's life drastically, not to mention the health of the entire
When parents refer to the word "drugs" in discussing medications, I
remind them that the connotation is a negative one and that it
might be helpful to explore their fears and anxieties. Medications,
when used as directed by a physician can be a Godsend, giving a
child control over himself and drastically improving his quality of
So next time you cringe at the idea of medication for your child,
think about it more as an aide, like wearing eyeglasses. If we are
near sighted, we can squint as hard as we can, but that doesn't do
much for improving our vision-we accept that there is a physical
reason for our near sightedness and simply get fitted for glasses.
Likewise, we need to recognize that when there is a chemical or
neurological imbalance affecting our child's happiness and
well-being, we need to be open to the idea of exploring medications
to help balance his biochemistry so he can gain better control of
himself. It's not a matter of trying harder; it's offering a tool,
like the eyeglasses.
That doesn't mean that medications are always a magic bullet. We as
parents still need to use behavioral strategies to help teach our
kids appropriate ways to act. But until their
neurology/biochemistry gets some medical support, it is often a
waste of time to expect major changes. Again, it's like teaching
our child to just "squint harder".
Re-framing the idea of medications in this way may make it easier
to accept your doctor's suggestion. Questioning the professionals
and their recommendations for medications is good. It shows that
you care and that you want what is best for your child, rather than
looking for a "quick fix". You want to use all the tools in your
toolbox to help your child live the best quality of life
Copyright © 2004 Terry Matlen, ACSW - All Rights