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When Kids Don’t Want to Take Medication for ADHD, Anxiety or Depression

Welcome to Tea & Tips, where we respond to burning questions from parents and educators — taking aim on one topic at a time, guiding you to improve communication, confidence and calm.

Many kids and teens -- especially those with ADHD, anxiety, and depression -- do not want to have to rely on medication, and they’d rather not take it.

Elaine: So we've gotten a bunch of different questions that are all related to the issue of: what if my kid doesn't want to take meds, what if my kid just stopped taking his meds and I don't know what to do or my kid won't take the meds and we're in a battle about it right. So lots of issues around kids have been prescribed a medication, they've been taking it for a while or maybe they haven't yet and now they don't want to or they don't want to start.

Diane: Well and part of this is going to be a little bit age specific but through the whole process, you want to try to be giving your child as much control and involvement in the process as they can reasonably manage. And I'm going to challenge us to push it a little further than we would naturally because a lot of times we'll go, "oh no, my child has to take their medication," and the reality is that it really may help them to take the medication, but if they're not involved in that process and in that decision making their buy in is going to be completely different.

Elaine: Well you know the ultimate goal here right, is these kids have a chronic medical condition that they're going to need to manage throughout their life and so part of our job here is teaching them to become their own medical manager. So we want to help them become aware of, how do I feel when I'm on it, what is the benefit to me of taking this med, what are the side-effects or downsides of taking it so that their part of the decision making process, even if they're too young to make the decision on their own, you want them to feel like they have a voice because we want them to learn to become their own decision makers.

Diane: Well and I think that, that's the piece of it is that there are times as parents we're going to say, nope we're the parents we set the rules and there are times that they're we're going to say, well no, you can try this and hold them accountable for what happens if they try it and its not successful; and what does success look like and those sorts of things.

Elaine: And the other thing I would add is that a lot of this comes down to a feeling, a sense of control. A lot of our kids feel out of control for a lot of reasons and medication is one more thing that's sort of done to them or at them. And So oftentimes in those pre-teen years especially and through teen years--They want control and so if we give it to them and be in conversation with them about it instead of resisting it, and saying, no you have to, it may take a little bit longer for them to land in a safe easy relationship with it; but then it will be theirs.

Diane: And a thing that comes up more than anything else is about the language you use. So if you're telling them what to do, you must do this, you must do that, you get a very different conversation than, and very different reaction than if you ask questions. "Well what did you notice when this happens, and what did you notice? How did it feel? And what do you really want out of this ? And how are you going to manage your brain if you don't take in the medication?"

Elaine: I was talking to a private client about this issue this week and a 14 year old boy had decided, I don't want to take the meds anymore, and so... And he's a really scientific kid -- and so the conversation that she was going to have with him was, so let's talk about the scientific method, what happens when you change more than one variable at a time in a scientific experiment. So that was a way that she could connect to this kid in a way that could really resonate with him -- so he could be the one saying, "well maybe I should only change one thing at a time."

Diane: So giving them that empowerment and that control makes a huge difference.

Bottom Line: If your kid or teen does not want to take medication for ADHD, anxiety, depression, or anything else -- step into curiosity and conversation. You can empower your kids to manage their life-long, chronic medical conditions by changing the conversation around medication.

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