Ask the Experts

I Want to Medicate My Child—But My Spouse Does Not

Helping your child do well in school, socially, and at home is not an easy task. Things get complicated when you and your spouse disagree on a course of action to take.

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Have you found yourself in one of these difficult situations?

  • You and your child’s physician conclude that your child should take medication, but your spouse says no.
  • You and your spouse agree on medication, but your mom or dad, or an in-law, voices strong disapproval.
  • You are divorced, and your ex refuses to allow your child anywhere near medication.
  • You and your spouse are putting your child on medication, but your child’s teacher disapproves.

Helping your child do well in school, socially, and at home is not an easy task. Things get complicated when you and your spouse disagree on a course of action to take. The most difficult situation is when parents disagree on the need for their child to take medication for ADHD.

Frequently the disagreement stems from one parent not realizing the seriousness of the child’s behaviors in school. And sometimes a parent doesn’t understand the role medication plays in helping a child with ADHD. This out-of-the-loop parent is biased against medication. He will tell his spouse and the doctor, “You are not going to put my child on medication” or, “My child doesn’t need medication.”

What to Do

First, try to educate your spouse. He or she should have been involved all along, but if not, you might say, “The doctor recommended using this medication. Let me set up an appointment for us, so that you can hear his reasons for the recommendation.”

Set up the appointment and tell your doctor in advance about your spouse’s distrust of medication. At the meeting, the physician might start out with, “I appreciate the fact that you are concerned about your son being on medication. Let me try to relieve your concerns by explaining more about it.” Have the physician review the symptoms of ADHD and pinpoint the behaviors targeted by the medication. He should review how medication works and for how long, side effects, and how they will be handled.

If your spouse refuses to go, ask the doctor to call the parent. He can say, “I understand that you are uneasy with my suggestion that your son take medication. May I try to address your concerns?”
If your spouse still refuses a one-on-one discussion, ask him to read about ADHD and how medication can help manage symptoms. A good place to start is on ADDitudeMag.com or on chadd.org.

Share the Anxiety

If your efforts fail, make your spouse aware of the problems your child is having in school. Perhaps you have been the one who got all the calls about your child’s problems in the classroom, and went to all the meetings with the teacher and guidance counselor. You explained it to your spouse, but he never gave you his full attention.

Meet with the principal and request that teachers and others call you and your husband about your child’s challenges in school. Give the school your husband’s day-time phone numbers. Do not go to meetings with the teacher or special-ed team without your husband. When you get reports from the school, share them with your spouse.

You may be keeping your spouse out of things because he gets angry at your child when he isn’t doing well in school. He may even yell at or hit your child. If so, make an appointment with a family or marriage counselor soon.

If you and your physician decide that medication will help manage ADHD symptoms, don’t tell your child not to tell Dad or Grandma that she is taking ADHD medication. This places your child in a difficult situation. She may think that taking medication is wrong or feel uncomfortable about being asked to lie to her father.

A divorced parent may not know the problems your child has during the course of a normal day. Maybe your son or daughter visits your ex only on weekends or on vacations. The two of them usually spend time relaxing and having fun together. The pressures of doing homework, getting calls from teachers complaining about a child’s behavior, or doing tasks at home never come up.

If this is the case with your spouse, make a plan with the school for him to get the same calls and notes that you get. Inform the principal and teacher that they should invite your spouse to every meeting, and insist that he show up.

What if these strategies do not work? Worse, what do you do if your ex threatens to “take you to court” if you give your child medication? Meet with a lawyer to discuss your options.

Dealing with Grandparents

Arrange for you and your spouse to meet with your parents or in-laws to explain the causes and symptoms of ADHD, and how medication can help manage them. Bring a book or fact sheet for them to read. Ask for their support. If they remain negative about medication, explain that you appreciate their concerns, but that you are following the doctor’s advice.

Should this approach fail and a grandparent tells your child that it is wrong to take medication, or even refuses to give him his pill when he is sleeping over, tell the grandparents that their resistance is creating problems with their grandchild, and, if it continues, he won’t be sleeping over any more. They will see their grandchild only when they come to visit you or when you go with your child to visit them.

Dealing with Teachers

Schedule a meeting with your daughter’s teacher. Talk about the the symptoms of ADHD and the role of medication in managing them. Explain to the teacher that you plan to follow the recommendation of your child’s physician, making it clear that the decision is yours to make. Stress that you will not accept any negative comments made to your child about taking medicine. It’s a good idea to get the support of the principal and the school nurse when talking with the teacher. I wish you the best of luck.

1 comment

  1. One of the arguments that I see used quite often is, “Our doctor said the child should take the medication(s).” When it comes to our children’s health we must be very careful. Doctors are humans and while you may think your doctor is special, he or she is still influenced by money and doctors are paid to prescribe medications. The pretty salespeople that roll into a doctor’s office everyday are not there for their health. They make big money for the pill manufacturers. The fact is no one knows the long-term impact these mind-altering drugs have on children. Studies show that growth is stunted with by ADHD medications but “not by much.” That should not be comforting. If a person’s height can be stunted, what is happening inside the brain itself? What part of the brain maturation process is stunted? Do these drugs solve one problem but cause other, permanent problems? The answer is we don’t know and nor do the pharma companies. They do know they make big money pumping out these pills. Therefore the fallback position of these for-profit companies will be to keep pushing the pills.

    If your spouse has a problem with pills, the default is not to push the pills down the child’s throat. The default is no pills.

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