One of the most commonly prescribed treatments for ADHD is stimulant medication, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) or amphetamines (Adderall). However, for children who have never taken ADHD medication, the prospect of starting stimulant medication can be overwhelming and confusing. Parents often ask me how they can best prepare their children to take ADHD stimulant medication for the first time and how they might feel.
Tips for Talking to your Child about Taking ADHD Medication
Discuss the Medication with Your Child
Before starting your child on medication for ADHD, it is important to have an open and honest conversation with them about why they are taking the medication, what it is supposed to do, and any potential side effects they might experience. Explain to them that the medication is not a cure for ADHD. It is a tool to help them manage their symptoms. Encourage them to ask questions and share any concerns they might have.
Involve Your Child in the Decision-Making Process
Children are often much more aware of their challenges than parents recognize or that their children are willing and able to share.
And like adults, children often want some control over their lives, even though they may not have the maturity to understand the complexity and importance of many issues that impact them. So it is important to involve your child in the decision-making process regarding their medication. Let them know that it is ultimately their decision whether or not they want to take the medication, but also explain the potential benefits and drawbacks of taking the medication versus not. Consider their input and preferences, and work with them to help them adjust to the changes that might take place.
Dispense the Medication as Prescribed
It is essential to take the medication exactly as your child’s doctor prescribes. If you have concerns about how the medication is or is not working, let your doctor know before you consider adjusting the dosage, timing, or frequency.
Be Prepared for Side Effects
Stimulant medication for ADHD can cause side effects such as decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping, stomach aches, and headaches.
These side effects are usually mild and go away independently as the body adjusts to the medication. However, if your child experiences severe or concerning side effects, immediately contact their doctor.
Track your Child’s Progress and Medication Dosage
Keep a log or a journal of your child’s progress and any changes you observe in their behavior or symptoms.
Record any side effects they experience, how the medication affects their behavior and academic performance, and any concerns or questions you have. I also recommend asking your child to track their appetite, mood, and productivity. You want to help them become self-aware so they engage fully with their doctor. It’s also a valuable life lesson for them to learn to advocate for their needs.
Provide Emotional Support
Starting medication for ADHD can be a significant and sometimes emotional experience for children.
They may feel scared, confused, or anxious about taking the medication. Reassure them that you are on their team and remind them they are not alone in this experience. Please encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings and let them know you support them.
Each child (and adult) will feel differently when taking ADHD medication. Some children may experience a sudden improvement in their symptoms, while others may not notice any immediate changes. It is important to manage your child’s expectations and let them know that it may take time for the medication to take effect.
And remember, Pills Don’t Teach Skills! Parents, professionals, and life teach those life lessons.
If you would like any guidance or support, please let me know.
Cindy Goldrich, Ed.M., ADHD-CCSP
Calm & Connected: Parenting Children & Teens with ADHD/Executive Function Challenges©
Additional Article on ADHD Medication: Teens and ADHD Medication