New to ADHD medication for your child? This may be the first time your child will have to take a long-term medication, which can mean issues you may not have thought of as a parent. Below are my 7 Best Practices for how to successfully manage such medication for your child:

  1. Don’t Force Pill Swallowing. Be sure to alert your prescriber if your child cannot swallow pills. Now is not the time to force the issue. Many medications come in non-pill form such as sprinkles, liquids, and dissolvable. You can then bring your child up to speed on pill swallowing without the pressure of wasting medication or a battle of wills you will not win.  To practice pill swallowing, look at the pill size of most ADHD medications on the market and start having your child swallow small candies such as sprinkles, advancing to Tic Tacs, etc. until you get to the size of the standard pill.  Many pharmacies will also sell you empty gelatin capsules like the ones they use for medication that you can use to practice.

  1. Keep records. A change in dosing and even medication type is typical for children. In my experience, if your child ends up being difficult to medicate, you will not remember what medication was used when or the reason why you made a change. Figure out what works best for you—old school paper and pen or a notes app on your phone — to keep records of medication type, date prescribed, dosage, benefits, and any side effects. Be sure to make notes on insurance coverage issues and drug company patient assistance plans as well. An example of an ADHD medication log that at least gets you started on knowing what to look for can be found here.

  1. Plan for refills. Many medications for ADHD, specifically those that fall under the category of stimulants, require more planning for refilling than you are likely used to. Such medications fall under the category of controlled substances, requiring by law more strict regulations for prescribing. Talk with your child’s prescriber to make sure you clearly understand how often you can refill your child’s prescription, when you need to call to make sure the next prescription can be filled in time, any restrictions on what office location you must use to pick up the medication, and what to do if you are going to be out of town when the prescription is due to be refilled.

  1. Be in charge of giving medication. If your child has ADHD, memory may very likely be a challenge. Of course, this applies to remembering to take medication for ADHD as well! So instead of arguing, just give the medication. Come up with a routine and stick to it to help you remember. Even if you have a teenager, still consider being in charge of medication not only for memory reasons but to make sure it is being taken as directed. You can gradually find ways to transition medication responsibilities to your teen but for now, just do it.  This will also help you stay on top of refilling the prescription on time.

  1. Be ready for your child to use medication as an excuse. If your child is struggling with a situation and tells you they can’t do something because they didn’t take medication, just know that most kids try this at least once! The best response is, “I know you have ADHD. That just means you have to try harder.” ADHD is a reason a child may struggle but isn’t an excuse for eliminating all expectations. You should support your child as much as you need to to get tasks done, but gently nudge them forward at a pace that is met with success.

  1. Avoid using medication as weapon. Some of my patients complain that their parents use their medication as a ‘weapon’ in their minds. How? By saying things like, “I’ll bet you didn’t take your medication!” or “Go take your medication!” when the child misbehaves. Kids can start to wonder if something is wrong with them and that medication is the only answer for being ‘good’. Keep such comments in your thought bubble and, instead, focus on something more helpful like specific instructions on what you need your child to do.

  1. Be smart about medication misuse and abuse. Some medications for ADHD can be abused. Teens and young adults might use stimulants for ‘study aids’, for example, and can readily obtain a pill from someone selling them at school. If your child is at home, lock up all stimulant medications and record the date the prescription needs to be refilled. If your child is away from home, provide a safe and recommend that your child not advertise that they take stimulant medication to others.  Educate your child and yourself on the dangers and legal consequences to giving someone their stimulant. Even if the drug isn’t sold, it might still be viewed as drug dealing’, for example.  Check out this article for more information.