Many children with mental health challenges can benefit from taking medication, usually in combination with therapy. But finding the right medication and dosage takes time, and side effects can sometimes be a problem. That’s why kids who take medication should always be closely monitored by a doctor.

It’s important to find a doctor or psychiatrist who has experience using medication to treat the kind of issues your child is experiencing. The goal should be to find a provider who is thoughtful and well-informed, and who you and your child will be comfortable working with long-term. Your child’s doctor should be available to work with you until the medication is successful and be able to monitor your child as they change and grow.

Above all, you want to work with professionals who communicate effectively with you, listen to your concerns and answer your questions. Here are some questions that anyone prescribing medication to your child should be able to answer:

  • What is the generic name of this medication, and what do we know about how the active chemical ingredient works?
  • What are the alternative medications, and why did you choose this one?
  • If it’s effective, what will this medication do for my child?
  • How do you arrive at the best dosage for this medication?
  • How long does it take to work?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • How will you measure the effectiveness of the medication?
  • What kind of monitoring will you do while my child is on the medication?
  • What’s the research on this medication?
  • How many patients have you treated with this medication?
  • How long should my child continue to take this medication?
  • If we choose to stop using the medication, how slowly must it be discontinued, and how do you monitor that tapering-off process?

Knowing what you don’t want in a doctor can be as important as knowing what you do want. If the doctor proposes medication for your child without giving you a clear diagnosis, you should look elsewhere. Trying medications to see if they work can lead to inappropriate and ineffective treatment. Decisions about medication should be based on your child’s diagnosis, not the other way around. Look for a different doctor if yours says something like: “If this works, we’ll know more about what to diagnose.”

Another sign of possible trouble is if your child is struggling and your clinician is adding one medication after another. That approach makes it easy to lose track of what’s effective and what’s not. When kids are given medications to alleviate side effects of other medications, it may be time to get a second opinion.