Alternatives to drugging our children…

 A recent article by Megan Johnson in U.S. News & World Report explored 9 natural, drug-free treatments for ADHD that have all shown to have promise and positive outcomes for the children involved.  Her list includes; positive parenting, treatment programs, neuro feedback, interactive metronome training, meditation, a natural environment, better sleep, diet, and exercise.

Positive Parenting:  Apparently there has been research that shows some similarities among the parents of ADHD kids.  A study published in Clinical Pediatrics, suggests that having a child with ADHD elicits high levels of parental stress and maladaptive parenting. The presence of parental psychopathology (mental difficulties in the parent) is common and influences the parent’s response to the child’s ADHD symptoms.  The implication being that whether the ADHD came first or the parenting challenges came first, an improvement in parent-child relationship can have a positive influence on the overall success of the child moving forward in life.  Sadly too often, due to social and medical pressure, lack of resources to make real change and simple lack of information, parents turn to medication to solve the difficulties the child has with mandated sitting still and focusing on often irrelevant information and exercises.  As a culture we all can share the responsibility for this reality, collectively we have become reliant upon drugs to fix our so called problems of daily life.  We have given the power of our own health away and bought the story that we are all frail, weak, broken, diseased, chemically imbalanced and simply deteriorating as we age, and that as a result we need medication to maintain life as we know it.  And perhaps that right there is the heart of the issue, life as we know it.  Rather than medicating our kids, medicating our elderly, medicating our pets, medicating ourselves, in order to fit into life as we know it, we need to examine life as we know it as perhaps the problem.

Treatment programs:  It might be a surprise to learn that some of the most effective treatment programs are in fact parent skills training programs.  Parent skills training has been used for years to improve the behavior of kids with ADHD. Consider for a moment here that this research is saying that improving the parenting skills helps to treat a medical condition called ADHD, I can’t think of another so-called medical condition that is successfully treated by changing  the behavior of the parent of the sick person.  These programs teach parents skills such as making clear, specific requests of children and using praise and rewards for good behavior far more often than punishment. 

The results have shown to be effective enough that last fall the British government mandated parent training as the first choice for treatment in many cases.  In England, parents of children with ADHD are offered free government-funded classes where they learn to set clear limits for the child, be consistent in enforcing those limits, and reward good behavior.

There are also skill building programs for children that focus on listening and following directions, homework, organizational skills, effective communication, and problem-solving.  These have shown a fairly good rate of success.  (And really what youngster wouldn’t benefit from some extra training in these areas, I know I would have)

Neuro feedback:  This is essentially training the brain and consciousness to gain conscious control, or at least influence, over the areas of the central nervous system that are typically only influenced sub-consciously.  There is a growing body of research supporting this as a possible palliative therapy for the symptoms of ADHD, though more research is needed to verify it in the eyes of the mainstream scientific community for ADHD treatment.

Interactive metronome training:  “IM is a neuro-motor assessment & treatment tool used in therapy to improve the neurological processes of motor planning and sequencing.  The human brain’s efficiency and performance depend on the seamless transition of neuronetwork signals from one area of the brain to another. Findings in a recent study by Neal Alpiner, MD, “Functional MRI Study of the Effects of IM on Auditory-Motor Processing Networks”, suggest that IM works by augmenting internal processing speed within the neuroaxis. The key regions of the brain that are affected appear to include the cerebellum, prefrontal cortex, cingulate gyrus and basal ganglia. These parts of the brain are responsible for human timing as well as other day to day functions such as: sustained attention, language formulation, motor coordination and balance.” (From the website for Interactive Metronome therapy,

Meditation:  There have been many studies linking regular mediation practice with greater mental clarity, sense of well-being, decreased stress and improved mental focus.  Recently there have been a few studies looking directly at the effects of mediation on ADHD symptoms and have shown some promising results in improving attention span, decreasing anxiety and improving organizational skills.  (,

A natural environment:  A study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that outdoor activities reduced the symptoms of ADHD more than activities performed indoors.  This was true across all age ranges and other individual characteristics.  Other studies have shown that children who spend more time in the woods or other park settings have a greater improvement in ADHD symptoms than those that spend less regular time in these settings.  As humans, we are nature; we need regular interaction with nature to allow us to reconnect with the true essence of who we are.  We need time away from the many distractions of modern life; our phones, computers, TVs, the focus on others and outside problems and issues.  We require the nutrition of time spent in solitude in the natural world to live a balanced and fulfilling life. 

Better sleep, diet, and exercise:  These are the basic tenets of good health whether or not one has the symptoms of disease or not.  For our bodies to function properly we need proper amounts of sleep, a balanced health promoting diet, and regular exercise for our bodies and minds.  The benefit of these activities has been researched and proven ad nauseum.  For the purposes of this discussion let it be said that you can’t go wrong for any health and wellness concerns by getting a healthy dose of these three things.  And perhaps our overall dependence upon medications would be greatly reduced if everyone committed to these three basic tenants of good health living.


Why do we so often turn to drugs for our children?  This is a complex and multi-faceted issue.  Sometimes parents are pushed to their wits end and believe they have nowhere else to turn.  Often there are strong social and peer pressures to medicate an active child.  Unfortunately 2 primary reasons have to do with what I consider a breach of trust; Doctors and pharmaceutical companies.  Too often when a person turns to the expert for help in a challenging situation with a child they look to a psychiatrist for, and this almost always ends with a prescription for a psychotropic drug.  Since they are the “expert” why would a concerned parent question it?   Particularly when they are not fully informed of the potential deadly side-effects.  The other culprit here is the marketing and research branches of pharmaceutical companies.  If you watch TV or read mainstream magazines you are constantly bombarded with advertisements that suggest there is something wrong with you, that you need medication to help you, that you should “talk to your doctor” for help and that your doctor should put you on this drug to make everything better.  “Talk to your doctor” was one of the most brilliant and devious marketing ideas ever devised by the drug industry.  There was a time not too long ago when if you thought something was wrong with you, you would go to your doctor and ask them to figure out what was wrong and then advise you of the best treatment options.  Those days are gone, now the public is asked to self-diagnose and then go to their doctor as a dispensary of the latest drugs being pushed on TV.  In fact, the underlying suggestion that is often in practice is that if your doctor won’t prescribe the drug that you have seen on the commercial you can go to the doc down the street who will.  Therefore a doctor who conscientiously won’t overprescribe medications is risking their own livelihood. 

These are our children, one of our most precious resources.  When I look into my 2-year old daughter’s eyes and think of the over medicating of children in our society I feel sadness and then anger.  The anger is because the perpetration of this atrocity is being done purposefully and with full knowledge of the consequences, and yet still being done simply for money, for status and for power.


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