Toddlers on Psychiatric Medications
According to a 2007 Columbia University study, about 1 in 70 preschoolers take psychiatric medications—including stimulants, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antianxiety drugs. It is not possible to say—without knowing these children personally—if medications are appropriate. But we do know that psychiatric drugs are not approved by the FDA for children under 6. There is simply not enough information to know how very young brains and body will respond—over time—to these medications.
As a child psychologist, I have worked with hundreds of children on psychiatric medications. In many cases, medications were necessary for the children’s safety and well-being. Almost every parent I’ve worked with has agreed to their child’s taking medication because they really believed it was the best way to get back on track. Few parents are excited about medications, but look instead to outweigh the downsides of out-of-control behaviors, moods, and urges.
But, here’s the thing. Medication is not the only option. It should never be the first option. The fields of child psychiatry and child psychology have solid, evidence-based research that shows the effectiveness of non-invasive treatments—therapy, sensory integration, parent/teacher education, and coaching.
If you’re wondering if your toddler is “abnormal,” see a child psychologist. This doctor should spend time with your child, you, and get a detailed history of the problem. Child psychologists can conduct standardized measures that have been validated to use on very young children. Mental illness is hard to characterize in preschoolers. You need an expert. There’s a national shortage of child psychologists and child psychiatrists, but it is worth the wait to see one. There is nothing less at stake than the health and welfare of the one you love most—your child.
This CNN article by Kelley King Heyworth is a thorough dialogue about the dilemma of putting toddlers on psychiatric medications.