What is your take on behavior-modifying medication for children?
I love this question because it’s something I think about often. I have worked with many, many teenagers who are on medication for ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, Depression and Mood Disorders and I have seen and heard of many remarkable changes and equally as many unremarkable changes.
The decision to medicate a child is a tough one and should involve multiple conversations with your child’s doctor and a clear understanding of what the medications can do and not do. Personally, I am typically hesitant to interfere with a growing child’s brain chemistry (especially teenagers whose hormone level fluctuations could be extracted and marketed as psychosis inducing drugs themselves), but I do believe there are times when the brain chemistry could use a little tweaking and can help change lives for the better. The big question is which drugs, for how long and what are the pros and cons of each.
But to your answer your question, I do not believe there is any medication that will change a child’s behavior. Medication can sometimes help correct dysfunction occurring in the brain chemistry, but it will not change a child’s behavior. Only the child’s beliefs and attitudes will change the child’s behaviors.
For example, if a child is on medication to manage their ADD/ADHD and it works as proposed, they will be able to focus more on tasks at hand and hone in on some skills that might be a challenge when continuously distracted. This can be very beneficial for children who are motivated to do well in school, but struggle with the ability to stay engaged for long or even short periods of time. For the child who is not motivated to do well, the medication will still work, but it will not change their attitude or desire to do the work until they have decided the change is important. My advice to a child who struggles with symptoms of ADD/ADHD is to work to figure out tactics that help them manage their inattention, both inside and outside of school. Sometimes professional help can be helpful in accomplishing this.
Another example is when a child is on medication for anxiety, and it works as proposed, the medication will help “take the edge off” and promote a less reactive nervous system. This can be very beneficial for those who are willing to take steps to change their negative thought patterns and learn some new coping skills to manage their stress. But for those who are unwilling to change anything they are doing, it will offer minimal success in overcoming their anxiety and distress.
My point? Medications can be a great supplement in conjunction with making behavioral, attitude or habitual changes to alter the patterns that are not currently working for the child, but they will undoubtedly need additional support beyond the medication for lasting and real results.
On a personal note, I am a huge fan of homeopathy and naturopathic treatments. They are typically without threat of harmful side effects. To me, there is nothing to lose when trying out this angle and makes parents like myself, much more at ease when using trial and error tactics on my kid’s growing body.