How do I make a decision about anxiety medication for my child?

The Child Anxiety FAQ

This is not a question that I can easily answer for the podcast because not only am I not a prescriber, but I haven’t met your child or teen. 

I personally feel very cautious about treating child anxiety with medication andI definitely don’t think you should rely on a podcast for that information. Think of this just as a kind of intro; ultimately you need to reach out to your child’s doctor and talk to them about it.

When you’re thinking about medication for your child, what that means obviously is that you and your child are struggling in some way and you’re wanting to know how best to help. 

It’s important to understand that medication is not a cure for anxiety. It’s not like having a headache and taking ibuprofen, and then you feel better. Medication is part of an anxiety treatment plan.

Not every child who meets clinical criteria for an anxiety diagnosis is going to need or benefit from medication. Again, this is very personal. It depends very much on the child and on their environment and on what else might be going on.

The first thing you should do. Is make sure that what you’re dealing with, what your child is dealing with is in fact anxiety.

Anxiety sometimes gets misdiagnosed as other things. Other things sometimes get misdiagnosed as anxiety. So if you’re considering medication, your child is going to need a thorough assessment from someone who is able to do that, and that would be a counselor or a social worker, a psychologist. 

If you wanted to a full neuro psych workup, that would be someone who is sitting with your child and doing a full assessment of how their brain works, how they might be struggling, what their strengths are. Honestly, I think that is really your best bet when you’re thinking about medication, because a neuro psych is going to be qualified to also diagnose ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. Counselors, and social workers are able to do some of that depending on their training, but a neuro psych has that background and the ability to do the full workup. If your child is seeing a counselor, obviously that counselor will know them really well but a neuro-psych is doing a more formal assessment. 

Before you go to medication, it’s important that you try other avenues first. Having your child meet with a counselor for treatment would be a great thing to do. 

Talk therapy, play therapy, basically cognitive behavioral therapy in whatever form is most accessible for your child is a first step in treatment. Also, and you know that I’m going to mention this, you getting your support in order to make sure that your family is creating the healthiest systems for your anxious child is also a first course of treatment. 

A program like mine or another kind of support group, working with your own counselor, family therapy — these are all things to do to make sure that your child is getting the skills that they need. Those are the first steps before you look at medication. 

If it does turn out that it is an appropriate treatment for your child, there is no one who will say, just give your kids the meds and don’t do anything else because meds are only part of it. our child is also going to need to learn their skills. You are going to have to need to learn your skills. And then together with the people who are helping your family, you can start thinking about medication. 

I’m going to link here to a PDF made available by the American academy of child and adolescent psychiatry. That is their specific guide  on treating anxiety disorders with medication, and they’re going to give you information about what medications are available and how they work and how to get access to them. 

A really important thing to know is that there aren’t really a lot of medications that are FDA approved for children, particularly younger children. Now that said there are medications that people use off-label that means it hasn’t specifically been approved for the treatment of kids by the FDA. But there are studies that show that they can be effective and the physician prescribing it believes they can be effective. They are using evide