Medication may be an important part of treatment for some psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents. Psychiatric medication should only be used as one part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Ongoing evaluation and monitoring by a psychiatrist is essential. Parents should be provided with complete information when psychiatric medication is recommended as part of their child’s treatment plan. Children and adolescents should be included in the discussion about medications, using words they understand. By asking the following questions, children, adolescents, and their parents will gain a better understanding of psychiatric medications:

  • What is the name of the medication? Is it known by other names?
  • What is known about its helpfulness with other children who have a similar condition to my child?
  • How will the medication help my child? How long before I see improvement? When will it work?
  • What are the side effects which commonly occur with this medication?
  • What are the rare or serious side effects, if any, which can occur?
  • Is this medication addictive? Can it be abused?
  • What is the recommended dosage? How often will the medication be taken?
  • Are there any laboratory tests (e.g. heart tests, blood test, etc.) which need to be done before my child begins taking the medication? Will any tests need to be done while my child is taking the medication?
  • Will a child and adolescent psychiatrist be monitoring my child’s response to medication and make dosage changes if necessary?
  • How often will progress be checked and by whom?
  • Are there any other medications or foods which my child should avoid while taking the medication?
  • Are there any activities that my child should avoid while taking the medication? Are any precautions recommended for other activities?
  • How long will my child need to take this medication? How will the decision be made to stop this medication?
  • What do I do if a problem develops (e.g. if my child becomes ill, doses are missed, or side effects develop)?
  • What is the cost of the medication (generic vs. brand name)?
  • Does my child’s school nurse need to be informed about this medication?

Treatment with psychiatric medications is a serious matter for parents, children and adolescents. Parents should ask these questions before their child or adolescent starts taking psychiatric medications. Parents and children/adolescents need to be fully informed about medications. If, after asking these questions, parents still have serious questions or doubts about medication treatment, they should feel free to ask for a second opinion by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Parents seeking a referral for any reason to a local child and adolescent psychiatrist may contact the AACAP, 3615 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016, (202) 966-7300.

Free distribution of single Factssheets is a public service made possible by the Academy Endowment Fund. This fund supports educational programs and materials designed to educate parents, families, teachers, caregivers, and others about the mental illnesses affecting nearly 12.5 million children and adolescents in an effort to de-stigmatize these illnesses, promote early identification and treatment, and encourage funding for scientifically based research.

Please make a tax deductible contribution to the Academy Endowment Fund and support this public outreach. (AACAP Endowment Fund – FFF, P.O. Box 96106, Washington, D.C. 20090)

Facts for Families © is developed and distributed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts sheets may be reproduced for personal or educational use without written permission, but cannot be included in material presented for sale or profit. A complete set of over 60 Facts sheets covering issues facing children and adolescents is available for $18.00 ($15.00 plus $3.00 shipping and handling). Please make checks payable to: AACAP, and send requests to Public Information, P.O. Box 96106, Washington, D.C. 20090-6106.

Copyright © 1997 by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Presented with permission of the AACAP