It can be a difficult decision for parents – knowing if and when to start medication for their child? While medication may be needed in a particular situation, there is a growing body of research to support a particular type of approach when using medication.
Medication is often recommended when a child’s problems are so severe that he/she cannot function at home, school or with friends. Or, they can barely benefit from therapy – meaning they feel so anxious, hyper, angry or depressed that talking is difficult and practicing new behaviors is nearly impossible. So, medication is seen as an immediate remedy to reduce severe symptoms.
For all other types of child problems that are more mild-to-moderate, here are some research-supported reasons to start with behavioral therapy for your child or teen and add medication if needed:
- Parents prefer therapy options over medication
- Starting with behavioral therapy first decreases the chances that your child will need medication, and if they do, it decreases the amount of medication they will need to take. This is good because less medication means less chances for side-effects.—“These results suggest that dose may be optimized in the context of behavior modification for many if not most children at lower levels than might otherwise be expected.”
- Starting with medication first increases the chances that parents will drop-out of behavior therapy. My explanation for this is that medication does the work for the child (helping them focus, control their behavior, think before they act, etc…) and can prevent kids and parents from having to learn how to change their own behavior. So when they are used to a pill doing all the work, it feels overwhelming making behavioral changes in therapy. And when you stop the medication, behavior returns to baseline.—“No families failed to attend parent training when behavioral treatment was first; nearly 70% failed to attend parent training when medication was first.”
Written by Joshua Rosenthal, PsyD