I Stopped Drugging My Hyperactive Child
the moment of his early arrival into the world,
my fourth child seemed to be one ceaseless motion
of eating and crying, all mouth and thrusting
extremities. Michael slept at inappropriate
times, and rarely at night.
never walked. At eleven months he ran. And climbed.
And threw. And hit. And eagerly, joyfully grabbed
each day as his, rather like an exuberant, enthusiastic
puppy. His sunny nature and good spirits were
contagious, and during the first few years,
the comments from friends and neighbors were
amused and appreciative. "Never stops,
does he?" "Wow, look at all that energy!"
"No grass under this one's feet!"
tenor of the comments changed as time went on.
"Please, we expect that as a kindergartener,
Michael should be able to lie quiet on his mat."
"Michael is constantly interrupting."
"He can't sit still." "Please
have him come to daycare with empty pockets,
as he keeps distracting at story time with his
pocket contents." (This in spite of the
fact that we patted him down every morning,
removing bits of string, wires, dead batteries,
and assorted pebbles, before leaving the house.)
"Why can't Michael cooperate when we do
circle games? He always has to sit out, and
he won't stop dancing."
parents, we often felt exhausted, inadequate,
stressed out. Our two other sons had never demanded
so much. Why was this child so incredibly active?
It wasn't a simple matter of getting our act
together, of aligning our expectations to those
of his teachers or babysitters. This kid was
different. He was quickly labeled a troublemaker,
and our parenting skills were frequently questioned,
most of all by ourselves. He seemed unable to
get from A to B without going off on at least
kindergarten teachers suggested we consult our
family doctor, who suggested a one-month trial
of Ritalin. Our son, the doctor said, more than
met the definite diagnosis of ADHD (Attention
Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder). As parents,
we were unsure, hesitant, worried that any drug
might change our son's bubbling personality.
But what if it would mean that he would stop
dancing on the table, throwing things, climbing
walls, and disrupting story time?
we gave it a try - and it worked. Michael could
sit quietly at the table, stopped throwing things,
could focus on one activity instead of flitting
from one to another, and stopped hitting things
and people. In short, he could behave relatively
normally in a group setting. Oh, we had plenty
of battles remaining; he was still a normal
(oh-so-blessedly-normal now) boy.
the teachers' comments were approving, and the
whole family seemed to collectively breathe
in and settle down. At the next scheduled PTA,
his teacher was ecstatic. We had told no one
of our decision to start Ritalin, as we were
keen to see if it made a noticeable difference
before deciding to continue it.
school Michael was bright and attentive; academics
were no problem. The hyperactivity and attention
deficit were well controlled with occasional
adjustments of his Ritalin dose. People still
commented on his enthusiasm and abundance of
energy, but he no longer stuck out. Occasionally,
we inadvertently missed a dose, and the ramifications
were so immediate and obvious that it reinforced
our increasing reliance on the pills.
before Michael started fourth grade, our pastor
asked, "Is it right to sedate children
with ADHD so they fit in? Are we not ready to
accept these children as they are? Can't we
find creative ways of channeling their unique
energy and force?"
were skeptical, but we decided to give it a
try and stopped the Ritalin. Instantly, the
extremes were back. He was once again the dynamo
of those early years - the constant hyperactivity,
wild naughtiness, and bright exuberance were
back. One glance in the classroom would show
him swinging on two legs of his chair, tapping
his plastic ruler to a rhythm of his own making.
Wires and batteries again emerged from his pockets
in math class; his concentration was short and
divided, and his body never still. He interrupted
constantly, disturbing, distracting, once more
a bundle of explosives in a chronic state of
were immediately inundated with floods of well-meant
advice and reflections on our parenting from
friends, neighbors, and teachers, who had been
unaware that he was on Ritalin, and were equally
unaware of our decision to withhold the drug.
"Shouldn't he be able to sit still?"
was always exhausted, always on the defensive.
Fortunately, my husband does not share my volatile
temper, and his steady insistence that we stick
to our plan of action kept me from despair.
Soon, we noticed that the zest and enthusiasm
Michael brought to each day remained undiminished;
he seemed unmindful of the constant disciplining
and correction from teachers and parents alike.
we regret our decision to discontinue Ritalin?
No, we'd never go back there. Five years later,
we are still thankful to our pastor for encouraging
us to change the way we looked at our son. Who
knows what facet of our son's childhood and
growth we might have missed in our efforts to
make him fit in by medicating him? Would we
have suppressed some of the uniqueness so evident
in Michael, and thwarted what God had meant
him to be, in our attempts to make him more
Do others regret our decision? It often seems
so. Our highly structured society and increasingly
regimented standardized schooling do not allow
much room for the Michaels of this world. It
takes a big heart to manage such a child within
the limits of the daycare or classroom setting.
Michael has settled down tremendously. One thing
that we have never regretted is that Michael
never knew that he was being medicated for hyperactivity.
We let him assume that it was one of his asthma
medications. We felt that if he did not know
that he had a specific diagnosis, he would never
excuse his own behavior, and would be treated
as normally as possible.
still have occasional contact with old friends
and teachers, and it is always Michael whom
they ask after, although we have four kids.
"Is he still the same?" is their invariable
question, and we know all too well what they
mean. No, he's changed, and so have we.
from the Bruderhof
Saving Childhood Forum where you can discuss
this topic and other hot parenting issues
Note: Ritalin has been know to produce
good results in many cases. Still, there is
growing concern that it is being used as a "quick
fix" to sedate and control energetic children,
typically boys. If you have a hyperactive child,
we recommend you invest the time in researching
both sides of the debate, and of course discuss
this issue with your child's doctor before making