Your Kids and Psych Meds, Part II: How You Might Want to Explain It

When writing Your Kids and Psych Meds, Part I: A Resource Guide, I found absolutely nothing on the internet to help parents talk to their children about psychiatric medications, also known as psychotropic medications. There are resources for parents talking to their kids about ADHD medications, but not really much else to help parents whose children are beginning medications related to other Learning Differences. So, here’s my best attempt, friends. If you have suggestions for what’s worked for you, send them in! It’d be much appreciated!

The Possibilities for this Scenario

You may want to

  • Talk to your child on your own or with your co-parent present.
  • Have your psychiatrist discuss it with your child (It is part of what they’re trained for!).
  • Have your child’s therapist or counselor discuss it with them.
  • Say as little as possible. Your child may not care about why they have to take new medication, besides you telling them it will make them feel better.
  • Use my script. . . If your child wants a more in-depth explanation, I’ve provided my best rendition of childifying the conversation I’ve had with mental health professionals. Kids are curious; they aren’t dumb and they will respect you for telling them the truth.

What a conversation might look like

“Everyone’s body is made up of chemicals. Since humans are all the same species, we are born with relatively similar chemicals. Some people have more of some chemicals and less of others.

These chemicals change as we grow up and experience happy, sad, or scary things. The combination of the chemicals we’re born with, the chemicals that we put into our bodies, and the chemicals that our bodies produce changes how we think, feel, and behave. For example: some people have an easier time making the chemical called serotonin, a chemical that makes us happy. People that don’t have as much serotonin in their bodies can feel sad, angry or upset for seemingly no reason. There are lots of ways to help people feel better when they don’t feel well: one way is medicine.

Medicine for your brain is just a little bit different from medicine for your body. You know how your allergy medicine makes you feel better right away? This medicine might take a while to make you feel better, anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of months. And the way that your allergy medicine can make you sleepy, this medicine might make you feel different.

If you start to feel badly or different in a way that seems strange, I want you to tell me or your teachers or the nurse at school, okay? That way the doctor and I can make sure that you aren’t taking too much or too little of the medicine and that this medicine has the right chemicals to make you and your body feel better.”

Think this conversation isn’t really your style? No worries. See below.

What You Might Want to Include in the Talk

  • What the medicine is for or how it will make them feel 
    • This medication will help you focus in school, make you less sleepy, help you feel happy, calm down the noise in your head, etc.
  • When and how they will take the medicine
    • Will they eat food with their medicine? Is there anything they shouldn’t eat or drink with their medicine?
  • What activities they can and can’t do
    • It’s unlikely your child will be operating heavy machinery, but there may be other activities that your psychiatrist warns against while they take their new medication. 
  • How often they’ll see the doctor when they’re on this medicine
    • For kids who have trouble with change, it’s good to prepare them for future disruptions in their routine.
  • Let them know that this medicine won’t change everything
    • They will still be the person they are now and they will still have to be responsible for making good decisions for themselves, because the medication won’t do that for them.
  • What to look out for and who to talk to
    • Should they tell you if they start having a lot of scary, negative thoughts? If they feel dizzy at school, should they tell the teacher and go to the nurse? Talking with your child about these possibilities will help prepare them for what to do if the possibilities become realities. 

I hope these suggestions can help spark some ideas on what you’d like the conversation to look like. This conversation is truly, completely up to you. If you want to tell your child anything or everything, it’s between you, your family, and your psychiatrist. I hope that you’ll find the best option to suit your needs and your child’s needs on their road to wellness!

One Last Thing: Refusal

If your child outright refuses to take medication you want them to take, your best bet is to consult your psychiatrist. They may recommend that you schedule an appointment so that your child can hear directly from them why it’s important.

“Everyone’s body is made up of chemicals. Since humans are all the same species, we are born with relatively similar chemicals. Some people have more of some chemicals and less of others.

These chemicals change as we grow up and experience happy, sad, or scary things. The combination of the chemicals we’re born with, the chemicals that we put into our bodies, and the chemicals that our bodies produce changes how we think, feel, and behave. For example: some people have an easier time making the chemical called serotonin, a chemical that makes us happy. People that don’t have as much serotonin in their bodies can feel sad, angry or upset for seemingly no reason. There are lots of ways to help people feel better when they don’t feel well: one way is medicine.

Medicine for your brain is just a little bit different from medicine for your body. You know how your allergy medicine makes you feel better right away? This medicine might take a while to make you feel better, anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of months. And the way that your allergy medicine can make you sleepy, this medicine might make you feel different.

If you start to feel badly or different in a way that seems strange, I want you to tell me or your teachers or the nurse at school, okay? That way the doctor and I can make sure that you aren’t taking too much or too little of the medicine and that this medicine has the right chemicals to make you and your body feel better.”

Think this conversation isn’t really your style? No worries. See below.

What You Might Want to Include in the Talk

  • What the medicine is for or how it will make them feel 
    • This medication will help you focus in school, make you less sleepy, help you feel happy, calm down the noise in your head, etc.
  • When and how they will take the medicine
    • Will they eat food with their medicine? Is there anything they shouldn’t eat or drink with their medicine?
  • What activities they can and can’t do
    • It’s unlikely your child will be operating heavy machinery, but there may be other activities that your psychiatrist warns against while they take their new medication. 
  • How often they’ll see the doctor when they’re on this medicine
    • For kids who have trouble with change, it’s good to prepare them for future disruptions in their routine.
  • Let them know that this medicine won’t change everything
    • They will still be the person they are now and they will still have to be responsible for making good decisions for themselves, because the medication won’t do that for them.
  • What to look out for and who to talk to
    • Should they tell you if they start having a lot of scary, negative thoughts? If they feel dizzy at school, should they tell the teacher and go to the nurse? Talking with your child about these possibilities will help prepare them for what to do if the possibilities become realities. 

I hope these suggestions can help spark some ideas on what you’d like the conversation to look like. This conversation is truly, completely up to you. If you want to tell your child anything or everything, it’s between you, your family, and your psychiatrist. I hope that you’ll find the best option to suit your needs and your child’s needs on their road to wellness!

One Last Thing: Refusal

If your child outright refuses to take medication you want them to take, your best bet is to consult your psychiatrist. They may recommend that you schedule an appointment so that your child can hear directly from them why it’s important.