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Psychiatric medication and young children:
Is there too much pill popping?

By Andy Eig, PhD., Clinical Psychologist


Before the 1990’s, it was rarity for young children under five to be prescribed psychiatric drugs. Now in the post-millenium age, while there are no actual hard numbers to look at, most psychiatrists will tell you that it is quite common. Recently, quite a few psychiatric experts have come forth and said that, in their opinion, doctors are over prescribing psychiatric drugs to young children.


Medications have developed since the 1990’s. In many instances, they have been not only useful, but also necessary for many preschoolers and toddlers. Nonetheless, prescribing drugs without taking into account all the precautions has become too common. The brain of a young child is undergoing such rapid change and transformation that it is often very hard to accurately diagnose a psychiatric disorder let alone prescribe medication for it. We are not entirely sure of the effects of many of the psychiatric medications on our children’s growth and development over the long term.


A number of factors have made over prescribing in toddlers and preschoolers more common these days. Psychiatrists are feeling pressure from pharmaceutical companies, demanding parents, and often times a demanding caseload that does not afford them time to use other techniques. For certain problems, there are psychological interventions that do not require pills but demand much time and work from parents to change their parenting skills. Parents often find these regimes too time consuming or emotionally arduous, that they opt for these medications. Doctors are aware of this and too easily comply with the parents’ wishes. We live in an age of convenience and quick fixes. Unfortunately, it may be hurting our children.



What if my young child needs one of these medications?


Like I said before, these medications can be very useful and effective. They can save lives. If your doctor or educator recommends psychiatric medication. First, make sure to consult with a board certified child psychiatrist. These physicians specialize in young children and are aware of the effects of psychiatric psychological techniques could be used before or in conjunction with medication. Trying one of these non-medical approaches before prescribing medication can be very effective. Psychological interventions used along with medication often speed up the curative process and allow kids to get off the medication more quickly.



What if my child is currently on medication?


It is always a good idea to keep in contact with your doctor. Look out for signs that the medication may not be working properly. Let your doctor know if your child is behaving differently. Are they drowsy at school? Do they complain of headaches? Keep in contact with your doctor so that he or she can help adjust the dosages.


In the age of the quick fix, we often forget that other solutions may be out there besides taking pills. Psychological interventions like behavioral modification, parent training, and play therapy, may be more time consuming but worthwhile in the long run. They can help even biological disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Medications have there place but it is up to us to make sure that they are being used judiciously.


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