What You Need To Know About ADHD Medication For Children

By: Julia Thomas

Updated January 30, 2020

Often when parents get the news that their child has ADHD, their first reaction is a relief. Now they know what the problem is, and they know there's treatment available. If the doctor recommends their child take medications for ADHD, they're faced with a new worry. They may wonder if ADHD medication for children is safe, effective, and manageable. Still, they must decide whether to go along with the recommendation. Here are some facts and tips for understanding ADHD medications better.

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Does Your Child Need Medication?

The first thing to know is that your child is not alone. According to CDC statistics on ADHD, 9.4% of children aged 2-17 - about 6.1 million - had been diagnosed with ADHD in 2016. Of these, 62% were treated with medication, either as the only treatment or along with behavioral therapy. Another 23% received no treatment. Only 15% received behavioral therapy without medications.

Most experts agree that ADHD medications are worth considering any time a child has ADHD that's interfering with their social, emotional, and educational well-being. While behavioral therapy and learning coping and organizational skills can help, these treatments typically aren't enough to overcome the suffering that comes with ADHD.

It's also important to know that medications aren't the last resort for children with ADHD. They're so effective that doctors usually suggest them as a first, best treatment. So, getting that recommendation doesn't mean that your child's case is hopelessly severe. It just means that the doctor is providing standard treatment as a starting point.

Some parents want to avoid medicating their child at all costs. Others rush to find a medication on their own, even before they get a confirmed diagnosis. Going out and getting medication, such as CBD oil, for your child before you have a professional diagnosis can compound the problem and cost you money needlessly. So, make sure you talk to a doctor or psychologist before you start treating your child on your own. Get an accurate diagnosis before you do anything else about getting ADHD medication. As you make your decision, rely on the information and guidance you get from a professional who has experience with treating ADHD.

What Is the Best ADHD Medication for Children?

Generally speaking, no one specific ADHD medication works best for all children. The two types of medication used most often are stimulants and non-stimulants. Stimulant medications are most helpful most often, but not in all cases. It's important to work closely with the doctor to ensure you find the best medication for your child.

Stimulant Medications

Stimulant medications are typically the first choice because they're extremely effective. About 70% to 80% of people who take stimulant medications for ADHD see improvement in the core ADHD symptoms of hyperarousal, distractibility, and impulsivity. So, they're worth considering.

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Here are some of the most used stimulant medications for ADHD. First, there are short-acting stimulants. They include:

  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • ProCentra
  • Zenzedi
  • Ritalin
  • Focalin

Intermediate-acting stimulants include:

  • Evekeo
  • Ritalin SR
  • Metadate ER
  • Methylin ER

Long-acting stimulants for ADHD include:

  • Adzenys XR-ODT
  • Dyanavel XR
  • Focalin XR
  • Adderall XR
  • Vyvanse
  • Concerta
  • Daytrana
  • Jornay PM
  • Metadate CD
  • Quillivant XR
  • Quillichew ER
  • Ritalin LA
  • Mydayis

Common side effects of stimulant medications include headache, upset stomach, and high blood pressure. Your child might also have less of an appetite and may lose weight. Your child may have trouble sleeping. They might have tics as well. These meds may cause nervousness, so they probably aren't the best ADHD medication for children with anxiety. Instead, your doctor might suggest a non-stimulant medication for your child if they suffer from anxiety.

Non-Stimulant Medications

Although stimulants are usually the first choice, doctors can prescribe non-stimulant medication if the stimulant doesn't work or if the side effects are too problematic. Three types of non-stimulant medications are used for ADHD: ADHD-specific non-stimulant medications, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants.

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Here are some of the specific non-stimulant medications:

  • Strattera
  • Kavpay
  • Intuniv
  • Tenex
  • Norpramin
  • Pertofrane
  • Tofranil
  • Aventyl
  • Pamelor
  • Wellbutrin
  • Effexor and Effexor XR

Although non-stimulants aren't as likely to work, they can have several advantages if they do. They don't cause nervousness, agitation, insomnia, or appetite loss like stimulants often do. And unlike stimulants, they last longer and don't wear off suddenly. There's a risk of addiction or abuse with stimulants, but that same level of risk isn't there with non-stimulants.

There are a few side effects that can happen. Your child may experience:

  • Upset stomach, nausea, and decreased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Sleepiness
  • Headache

Less commonly, they may experience:

  • Jaundice
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Allergic reactions
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart rhythm problems

What's The Right Dose?

Determining the right dose of stimulant medication is not an easy task, because it has little to do with factors like your child's weight, age, gender, or the severity of the ADHD symptoms. Instead, it depends on the efficiency of three processes:

  • The absorption of the medication into the child's GI tract.
  • The metabolism of the medication in your child's body.
  • The passing of the medication across the blood-brain barrier

The efficiency of these processes varies widely from one child's body to another's. And, there's no way to test the child to find out how efficiently their body handles these processes. Also, these processes will change as the child grows, so even if you find the right dose immediately, it may change later on. So, finding the right dosage may involve some ongoing trial and error.

The difficulty of finding the right dose is another problem with treating your child on your own. CBD oil, for example, may be difficult to manage. No studies have been done to determine the right CBD dosage for ADHD children. In fact, while there's some anecdotal evidence that it might help, no research has yet shown that CBD oil is beneficial for ADHD children at all.

If one ADHD medication isn't working, your doctor may suggest trying a different one. On the other hand, if the symptoms are improving slightly but not enough, your doctor may recommend staying with the same medication but changing the dose.

Medication Management Tips For Parents

The doctor will take care of medication management tasks like prescribing, adjusting the dose and evaluating results. As a parent, you're responsible for managing your child's ADHD medications at home. Your doctor and possibly your child's therapist will guide you. Here are some tips that can help you.

  • Record your observations, including changes in behavior, sleep, and eating habits.
  • Ask your child if they think the medication is helping them.
  • Keep track of when your child takes their medication.
  • Ask your child's teacher and other adults who work with your child, such as a youth group or athletic coach, for their input.
  • Note physical symptoms and side effects.

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Are ADHD Medications Safe For Children?

ADHD medications are generally safe, especially when compared to the risk of not treating your child's ADHD. If they don't get the help they need, they may fail at school, have social problems, get into accidents, or abuse drugs.

Because some ADHD interact dangerously with other drugs, it's important to tell the doctor all the drugs your child is taking, including medications for both physical and mental disorders. A complete physical and mental health history of your child will help the doctor choose the right medication. After the medication is started, you'll need to monitor what happens at home and communicate that to the doctor to make sure any side effects are dealt with, and medications changed if need be.

How to Tell If the Medication Is Working

After your child has been on ADHD medication for a while, you may see a dramatic improvement. You may notice changes like:

  • Your child can stay focused longer.
  • They're less impulsive.
  • They stop interrupting people.
  • They're in a better mood.
  • They have less anxiety and stress.
  • They pay attention to details.
  • Their memory improves.
  • They sleep better.

The changes might be small, in which case it's always a good idea to talk to the doctor about whether your child is taking the right medication and the right dose for them. Of course, if your child has been on the medication for long enough to see results and there are none, it's important to talk to the doctor about making a medication change.

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Taking Care Of Yourself

As the parent of a child with ADHD, you have a lot on your plate. You not only need to deal with this issue of medication, but you may need to work with a behavioral therapist to learn techniques for helping your child. You may have to learn about and apply for SSI for children with ADHD. Besides that, you have all the responsibilities that come with being the parent of any child.

Behavioral therapy for ADHD parents can help you help your child. However, it's also important to take care of yourself. Otherwise, you won't have the strength to give your child what they need from you. It might help you immensely to talk to a therapist about your problems as well as the challenges you're facing in dealing with your child's ADHD. You can speak to a therapist online with BetterHelp for convenient online therapy on your busy schedule. When you're feeling your best, you can give your child the help and attention they need. At the same time, you can build a better life for yourself and your entire family.


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