Tasha Schlake Festel
Some might call it neglect. Others laziness. I, however, prefer to call it responsible parenting. I rarely take my kids to the doctor.
Despite the mini crush I have on our pediatrician (and really, what mom doesn’t have a mini crush on her children’s pediatrician), my kids almost never go to the doctor. In fact, there have been some years when the only time we saw him was at my kids’ annual physicals, a mixed blessing, given the crush. It’s not that my kids don’t get sick. It’s just that I almost always wait it out. In a day or two, any illness generally goes away as mysteriously as it came on. No need for medical intervention.
Unless I’m pretty sure it’s strep or it’s something that’s hung on for just a little too long (like more than a week) or is violent or clearly alarming (such as a smashed nose or face through the window), we treat it at home without so much as a phone call to the doc. And I try not to medicate, even with over-the-counter stuff.
As someone who has a terrible resistance to all forms of over-the-counter pain-killers from years of migraines and overuse, I do not want my kids to suffer the same fate. For me, Tylenol and Tic Tacs have similar effects on pain. Aspirin = Altoids, Ibuprofen = Ice Breakers. I am sentenced to suffer because of an incredible tolerance to pain medication. It stinks, let me tell you. My kids deserve better than this.
For high fevers and bad headaches, ibuprofen and Tylenol are allowed in extreme moderation. An upset stomach (if paired with a lot of whining) might warrant a Pepto or two. But I prefer to wait, even on those treatments. I find that often a drink, a snack and a distraction are the best medicine. Television is often the drug of choice. It heals so many ailments.
I also don’t give the kids antibiotics unless whatever ails them is obviously something that will respond to them. Overuse of these life-saving medicines is causing super-bugs. We need to take personal responsibility and use them only when necessary. The common cold should not be treated with antibiotics.
I’m no doctor, but I think that no medication is better than the wrong one.
There are plenty of reasons to use certain medications with the kids. Some reasons are pretty basic, fever, cough, or allergies. Some are more involved, such as with ADD or ADHD. As the parents of a 6, 4 and 1 year old we have certainly had our fair share of fevers and so we have pretty strong opinions about which ones to administer and how often.
Our whole family is very committed to a diet which consists of no preservatives, additives, food coloring, and flavors. It’s especially important that the kids follow this diet for a few reasons. One, it is super healthy. Two, we believe that is helps with their behavior. The dyes and additives in food have been shown to negatively affect behavior and we have seen evidence of this. We follow the Feingold diet and because of that, when we have to administer Tylenol or Motrin we use the dye free kind. The few times we have used the cherry red kind, 2 of our kids have actually gotten sick because of the dye. We’ve never used cough medicine, our pediatrician said not to until age 6 and so we followed that directive and have happily never had any need to use it!
Along our line of having children, there was a question about the MMR vaccine and autism. The link has since been disproven but my husband and I still believe that getting 5, 6 and 7 doses of vaccines in one visit is unnatural and not totally healthy for the body. If a reaction was to occur, how would the doctors know which one was the cause for concern? We didn’t want to take that risk, so we decided to split up all their vaccines. Luckily, our pediatrician was awesome about it and when we came back for our shot visits, the nurses were quick and to the point. The kids weren’t too happy about going back 2 and 3 times but tough noogies, I say. As the kids have gotten older, we feel like their bodies can handle the onslaught of shots, so we have stuck with the recommended schedule of shots. We believe in full immunizations but we just wanted to spread out the vaccines.
Because of our natural way of doing things, I’d like to think that if we were confronted with some of the bigger issues, we would explore a more natural way of exploring treatment then jumping right to medication. Our interest in the Feingold diet has led us to do some research about the effects that diet has on some more of the major medical conditions. Research shows that more than 75% of children improve on a diet that restricts additives. (www.feingold.org) After that avenue were exhausted, we would certainly be open to medication. Medication has changed the lives of many children, and I would never be so arrogant to say that I would never explore that option. Hopefully, that is a bridge we will never have to cross.
I really don’t like the idea of medicating my kids. That doesn’t mean I don’t do it, I just don’t like it. So far, my kids have had very few illnesses requiring prescription medication. We have had a few bouts of strep, a tick bite that required antibiotics, croup … that sort of thing. I am not the kind of mother who takes my kids to the doctor at the first sniffle. Quite the opposite, actually. Two of my kids had a nagging cough for weeks last winter. When I finally took them to the doctor (not together, mind you, these events were a month apart) they both had walking pneumonia. Oops.
Anyway, medication around here usually consists of allergy meds and ibuprofen. Everyone in our family has seasonal allergies—some worse than others—so springtime is Alavert time during the day and occasionally Benadryl time at night. Using Benadryl has always seemed like a slippery slope for me. On the one hand, I know what its like trying to sleep with a stuffy, sneezy, nose and itchy eyes. On the other hand, Benadryl knocks my kids out and makes bedtime so much easier. I feel a little guilty dosing them at bedtime for my own benefit as much as theirs.
I also don’t like instilling the “take this—you’ll feel better” attitude toward medication. I want my kids to understand that a lot of medicines can be dangerous if they are taken the wrong way. I also don’t want to turn them into drug addicts. Last year, my then six-year-old son went through a two-month long “episode” where he refused to sleep, refused to stay in bed, and had screaming tantrums all.night.long. It was horrible, and eventually I took him to the doctor. The doc told us to try melatonin and boy oh boy it was the best thing ever. We gave him the medicine and within minutes he fell asleep—and usually stayed asleep for most of the night. Hurray!!! Unfortunately, he started having the same problems again about a month ago and we gave him the melatonin for a few nights. Now if he wakes up in the night he says “I need more melatonin so I can sleep!” Uh oh. We slowly weaned him off the medicine, but I hate the idea that he thinks he needs it.
When my kids get sick I prefer to let their body do what it needs to do to fight off illness. I don’t see a fever as something to suppress with medication as it is the body’s natural way of fighting off infection. Now, of course, too high a fever should be reduced but a run of the mill fever I feel is not a bad thing. I also don’t see antibiotics as the end all be all for every ailment my children get. I am not a fan of vaccinations either, we separated them all out. I wish my children could have gotten actual chicken pox rather than a vaccine; however, they could not be enrolled in school without them.
So, with that said… why do I give one of my children four pills a day?
One of my children has ADHD. I will admit before I had children I was quite sure that ADHD could be handled with appropriate parenting and teachers who could just take the time to be patient. I felt that parents who medicated their children most certainly were taking the easy way out. Funny how we know exactly what to do just before we have children of our own…
I knew from a very early age there was something different about my child. Pre-school even seemed to be a challenge for her. By kindergarten my Dad, an educator whose opinion I value very, much talked with me about my thoughts around not medicating my daughter. His words still echo in my mind, “If you don’t make her available to learn you may never know if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.” Hmm, made sense. I talked to my pediatrician and was then referred to a neurologist. My daughter’s teacher had to fill out a questionnaire, my husband and I did as well and then we filled out another – separately, at our first visit with the Neurologist. A complete physical was done and she determined our daughter could certainly be helped by medication but we’d start her off at the lowest dosage and work our way up. The Neurologist also alleviated my biggest fear – would it change her, would she still be the same person? Medications have come a long way and I was told I had nothing to worry about.
My daughter’s teacher at the time, Mrs. Currier, noticed a difference almost immediately in my child. I have a lot of respect for Mrs. Currier, she is an amazing teacher. Her observations made me feel so much better about my decision. Fast forward and my daughter was also diagnosed with dyslexia. No surprise there if you research, about 35% of children with one have the other. I’m glad I listened to Dad about making her available to learn. It made it easier to discover the learning disability and address it once we helped her be able to focus better. Also, on the rare occasion we have forgotten to give my daughter her medication we get an email asking us if something is going on such as a medication change. It makes that much of a difference for my daughter and it makes me feel better to know it makes such a profound difference for her. It makes me feel we are making the right decision.
My daughter is still the same wonderful little girl she always has been. The side effects can be tough, we had to change medications a couple of times. Right now we have to watch her weight as the medicine suppresses her appetite and she is a small kid to begin with. We give her a multi-vitamin (pill number 2) and just accept and work around the fact that she eats on a bit of a different schedule. She has also never been a great sleeper and the meds certainly don’t help with that so she takes two additional medications (pills 3 and 4) to help her sleep each night.
I hate that she takes so many pills but I do feel we made the best choice for our daughter. I feel that helping her control something that is out of her control is helping her to grow into the amazing person that she is.
Like so many of my original parenting dreams and ideals, my views on medications for my children have shifted over time. Some might refer to this more accurately as “lowering one’s standards.”
My first child was treated almost exclusively with homeopathics. I loved the safety factor (Just try to overdose on homeopathic medicine- TRY!) and how very specifically you can treat symptoms. My three favorites were the chamomile teething tablets, belladonna for fevers & arnica for bumps and bruises.
We occasionally used Tylenol for pain/discomfort when my son was sick, but rarely used it to reduce fever. I was, and am, a firm believer in letting the fever do its work to cook out the virus, but then again, my kids aren’t prone to febrile seizures, either.
I was reluctant to use antibiotics for ear infections, but used them when the pediatrician prescribed them, mostly because our pediatric office was fairly conservative about prescribing antibiotics. It wasn’t until my third child had one of those ear infections that ambushes-five-minutes-after-the-doctor’s-office-closes-on-Friday-afternoon that I learned some information that has allowed me to avoid antibiotics with more conviction. We had been managing my son’s pain with ibuprofen and warm, garlicky olive oil in his ear for half the weekend when our pediatrician called back. She told us that if the ibuprofen was managing the pain, in all likelihood, the ear infection would resolve itself by Monday. After assuring me that we weren’t risking hearing damage by waiting to medicate with antibiotics, she said, “Meh, a few days of ibuprofen is preferable to ten days on antibiotics.”
Plus, ibuprofen doesn’t wreak havoc my kids’ digestive systems. ‘Nuff said…
We now go to a family practice with doctors who are MD’s and homeopaths. I love this approach that allows us to try gentler, more natural solutions before resorting to big medicine. That being said, I’m not a trusting-enough individual to exactly poo-poo Western medicine altogether. And let me be honest: homeopathics take longer to work sometimes than harder-hitting pharmaceuticals. It’s not unlike the way organic fruit looks less “Hollywood” than the engineered stuff; or the way natural deodorant doesn’t quite do the trick for some people. Sometimes, homeopathics aren’t effective enough or fast enough for me.
About a month ago, I stalked into the doctor’s office with all four kids who had been in various stages of infernal nighttime coughing for about a thousand years. She took one look at me with my progeny hacking unselfconsciously around me and said, ever-so-gently, “I believe something with codeine is in order.”
“Is it safe for me while I’m pregnant?!” I asked, incredulous of my luck.
“I meant for the kids,” she said slowly.
“Oh, yeah! Of course that’s what you meant. Heh, heh,” I said, recovering myself.
We all slept blissfully that night, and one ¼ teaspoon dose did the trick for everyone (the kids, not me). They haven’t needed it since, but I like feeling prepared.