Managing Treatment

How Can I Get My Kid to Take Their ADHD Medication?

What happens if your child refuses to take their ADHD medication? To encourage adherence, be honest but gentle with your child about the medication’s purpose and the condition it is meant to help. And remember that, ultimately, ADHD medication is only one component of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Girl taking her ADHD medication with breakfast
Girl taking her ADHD medication with breakfast

Q: “I am in tears as I write this. I am the mom of a 10-year-old son who was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD a couple of years ago. He absolutely refuses to take any of his prescribed ADHD medication. We’ve tried crushing tablets and opening capsules and putting the medicine in spoonfuls of pudding. However, he is clever enough to know that the medication is in the concoction, and refuses to take it. My husband and I have tried everything. He did great for a week or two (on a variety of oral ADHD medications), then decided he didn’t like the ‘taste’ and ‘texture.’ He cannot swallow capsules or pills, but we are working on it. We are not sure what to do.” – Julie


The dilemma this mom describes is common. Parents everywhere struggle with their children over taking medication for ADHD, in itself a sometimes complex, emotionally fraught deliberation. They often encounter the problems Julie describes – a child not wanting to take medication after all, disliking the taste of the medicine, or complaining about how the medication makes them feel (real or perceived). You quickly learn that “taking medication” is far more complicated than you’d thought. Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) only complicates matters for families like Julie’s.

I have several suggestions for Julie — and the many other parents who wrestle with this issue.

How to Get Kids to Take Medicine for ADHD

1.Let the person with ADHD, regardless of age, make the decision about taking medication. It is your role to advise, supervise, educate, encourage, reassure, remind, and assist, but not to demand. The same applies to me as a doctor. I put the ultimate decision regarding medication in the hands of the person taking the pill.

2. Be honest. Don’t trick your child into taking the medication. If you put the pill into a spoonful of ice cream — an excellent way to get the pill down the hatch — tell your child the pill is in the ice cream. And let them choose the flavor of the ice cream. The more control your child has in the process, the better the results will be.

[Read: When Your Teen Refuses to Take ADHD Medication]

3. Explain the diagnosis of ADHD from a strengths-based framework. The analogy I use is to tell the child that they have a Ferrari engine for a brain, but with bicycle brakes. “Your brakes aren’t strong enough to control your powerful race car brain,” I might say. “The medication is like brake fluid that allows the brakes to work.”

4. Understand that medication is not an essential component of treating ADHD. It works 80 percent of the time, and many people do not want to try it, regardless of the medical facts. Knowing that medication is only one tool in the toolbox, make use of a comprehensive treatment plan. In our new book, ADHD 2.0 (#CommissionsEarned), John Ratey, M.D., and I highlight treatment interventions other than medication, including:

  • Engage in physical exercise
  • Try special balancing exercises that stimulate the cerebellum
  • Develop a creative outlet (really important!)
  • Manage your default mode network
  • Create stellar environments
  • Sign up for coaching
  • Tap into human connection in its many forms

Taken together, this program should help parents address the conflicts over ADHD medication. Although many people fear medication, it can be a godsend if used properly, and under medical supervision. Learn enough facts about medication that you feel comfortable giving it to your child, and make it one element in a multi-modal treatment plan.


How to Get Kids to Take Medicine: Parent Tips

“I make my child take a selfie while taking her medication and text it to me.” – Kiki

“I try to help my child understand why the medicine helps, and I ask her how she feels every day at dinner.” – Stephen

“We make taking medication part of his morning “health routine,” which also includes washing his face and brushing his teeth and hair. We keep it visible near his toothbrush.”

“I call his medication the “vitamin for his brain” and I take my own vitamin at the same time to encourage him.”

“We use an enormous, loud alarm that has unique tones specifically for taking medication.”

“My children don’t get their phone in the morning until I see them take their medication. With an hour long bus ride, it’s great currency!” – Amanda

“Our son has a token jar that helps motivate him. Each time he takes his medicine without complaint or push back, he gets a token. When he reaches 7 tokens (1 for each day of the week), he earns an hour of Minecraft on the weekend.” – Erin


How to Get Kids to Make Medicine: Next Steps


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