What to do When the Medication Wears Off

medication wears off

Statistics indicate that roughly two-thirds of all children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD are taking some sort of medication. For some families, medication is a god-send: kids are better able to focus, to manage their emotions and moods, to stay on task. In fact, family life is so transformed that one of the most common challenges we hear from those parents is what to do when the medication isn’t working! This frequently comes up either at the beginning of the day, or at the end of the day once the medication has worn off.

Pharmaceutical companies have tried to address this over the years, with long-acting medications, extended doses, and patches you can put on before your child wakes up in the morning.  For many of us, those solutions fall short. We want our kids to have some time during the day free from the common side effects of stimulant medication, like sleeplessness & reduced appetite. So what do you do when you can’t rely on medication?

Start by checking with your child’s prescribing medical practitioner.  Be sure that your child’s prescription is providing the right level of support. As kids grow and mature, their dosage may need to be adjusted. After that, there are three areas I’d recommend you focus some effort:

  1. Activate the brain: While stimulant medications can be very effective in helping the ADHD brain to focus, they aren’t the only solution. Many parents have found other solutions that are helpful, particularly in filling in the “gap” periods.
  2. Take care of yourselfWe often refer to mornings and afternoons as “the witching hours” because they tend to be more difficult times of day for parents. They are tough, not just because our kids’ medication is wearing off (or hasn’t started), but also because they are challenging times for us.  You may not be a morning person, or you may put in long hours and be tired and hungry at the end of a day.  What can you do?
  3. Plan ahead: Pay attention, or even keep a log, to determine when the problem times are for your child – and for you. Plan accordingly. 
  • Exercise: Have your child go for a run or play for a while before starting homework. Take a break from homework every 20 minutes and do some jumping jacks or have a tickle fight. In the morning before school, take a walk to get the brain up and going quicker.
  • Nutrition: Making sure that the brain has enough water and nutrients as your child goes through the day. Have your kids eat protein at every meal, and put out healthy snacks to tie them over through homework until dinner.  Manage sugar ups & downs if your kid is sensitive, and explore other supplements that support brain health.
  • Sleep: Easy for me to say, but try to make sure your child has enough sleep each night.  That goes for you as well! (Sometimes even more important than going to soccer practice or turning in homework on time!)
  • Other “brain” stuff: There is a lot of information out there about other brain supports, like meditation, brain training, and neuro-feedback. Read some of these Guest Expert articles, and be sure to do your research to find solutions that are safe and well-tested.  
  • Twelve-step programs have a tool to help you remember to:  H. A. L. T. Avoid intense parenting moments when YOU are Hungry,  Angry, Lonely, or Tired. 
  • Know what your triggers are, take a time out when you get triggered or stressed out in helping your child, and try to make sure you are well rested and well-fed.
  • It may make sense to work on a big project first thing on Saturday, when the brain is fresh (and the medication is active), rather than doing it after school. 
  • Many teachers will be willing to give you a full week’s worth of assignments in advance, particularly if your child has a 504/IEP in place. 
  • Get yourself ready before you wake your kids to make the mornings go a little smoother.
  • Divide chores into chunks and do a few at a time, rather than trying to fit the all into a Saturday.

The reality is that for many of us, medication can be a huge support, but it isn’t designed to be a panacea. Conscious parenting requires that we understand the limits and put supports in place, both for our kids and for ourselves. No matter how helpful medication can be, there are going to be times and situations where our kids need our guidance and support, something medication cannot provide.

 

One more thing. For those of you who cannot or choose not to medicate your child for ADHD, thanks for sticking with this article.  These ideas may be even more helpful for you. After all, you might consider the whole day “the witching hour!”

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