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5 Tools to Implement Before Turning to Pharmaceutical Options for Your Kids

By Mary Serphos
Licensed child and family psychotherapist

As a parent, when a teacher or principal suggests that medication and therapeutic support will help your child stay on track with the pace of his or her class, how do you react? For many, it is overwhelming to figure out whether or not medication is appropriate for your child.

The number of children prescribed with psychotropic drugs has been steadily increasing within the last several years in Costa Rica. According to a report issued by the Costa Rican Drug Institute in 2008, Ritalin (methylphenidate) use is higher among twelfth graders (3.4%) than in eighth graders (1.6%). In addition, ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in men than in women.

Medicating children for behavioral and psychological concerns such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or a behavior problem or anxiety has become the mainstream treatment of choice by many. It is a controversial subject and one which necessitates careful consideration before action.
Many individuals have expressed concern that professionals overmedicate children while others suggest that medication such as Ritalin for a child with ADHD is the “best way” to help that child regain normalcy. While some professionals advocate a combination of therapy and medication, ultimately, it’s a parents' final decision on whether or not to use medication as a part of their child’s treatment.

It’s important to monitor the ongoing effects and results of medication through feedback from the child, parents, teachers, therapists and doctors. And finally, it is critical to carefully read all the information about side effects and warnings on the labels of psychotropic medications before use in order to weigh the pros and cons of use as well as consider the possible effects of long term use such as kidney damage.

As an alternative to medication, family therapy is often an effective intervention for most behavioral and emotional conditions. The goal when working with children who are in need of therapeutic support is to minimize negative behaviors, hyperactivity as well as anxiety that interfere with the child's functioning and learning. Therapists often work as detectives helping to decode the behavior “problem” which often indicates that a child is holding in feelings of confusion, frustration or fear.
Through powerful yet simple interventions such as assisting a family to use positive and supportive communication at home, a child’s behavior often makes a drastic shift. Many times, the earlier these children begin treatment, the better the outcome. 

5 tools to implement before turning to pharmaceutical options.

  1. Structure at home: children do best in an organized environment where rules and expectations are clear and consistent. When a child's environment is structured and predictable children are more successful.
  2. Help children focus: as our society becomes increasingly distracted where cell phones, smart phones, lap tops, ipads and iPods are everywhere, monitoring children to help them focus on homework rather than jumping on facebook and video games is critical.
  3. Communicate: encourage children to communicate their feelings and, as a parent, use positive communication when expressing expectations at home.
  4. Activity: make sure children are getting enough physical exercise.
  5. Pay attention to general health and diet: any effective medical treatment begins with a thorough medical assessment. The pre treatment assessment is essential for any detecting possible existing medical conditions, such as a seizure disorder. Also make sure to monitor sugar, chemicals such as artificial color, soda and processed food which may exacerbate aggression, behavior concerns and hyperactivity.
  6. Family Therapy/Counseling: choose a therapist who will collaborate with you and your child as a team, finding solutions in an agreed amount of time.


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