Pills Are Not for Preschoolers – A Drug-Free Approach for Troubled Kids
Reviewed by Stacey Turis
Author Marilyn Wedge addresses something in this book that seems to have fallen to the wayside when it comes to treating troubled kids; the importance of understanding family dynamics, and knowing how to communicate effectively within those dynamics. Pills Are Not for Preschoolers offers case-based evidence on how child-focused family therapy can address seemingly neurological-based symptoms, break them apart, and then “reframe” them in a way that doesn’t label the child with a condition or require them to take medication. This type of therapy incorporates the valuable yet mostly forgotten concept of “it takes a village”; with therapy participants including parents, teachers, grandparents, siblings or whoever else may need to be included in the “reframing” of the behavior.
Wedge writes, “Family therapy is not a magic bullet, nor is it a prolonged course of ‘talk therapy’. Rather, it is a holistic and humanistic approach to treatment that frames a child’s problem in the wider context of the family. Some of the strategies come from ordinary common sense. Others are more sophisticated and paradoxical. All are intended to treat children – even those with the most serious disturbances – without diagnosing them with mental disorders and without using drugs to control them. The techniques are easy to understand and easy to put into action. Most important, you can use them without reservations or fear because, unlike psychiatric medications, they can do no harm.”
According to the author, “With over five million American children currently diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and other psychiatric disorders, taking a child to a psychiatrist – and giving him medication to curtail his symptoms – has become as common as taking a boy or girl to soccer practice.”
The fact of the matter is that most people simply don’t realize there are other avenues that can be explored before medicating, which according to Wedge is not surprising considering the amount of money that pharmaceutical companies put into marketing and advertising so their drug is the first one that pops into a parent’s head when their child starts exhibiting a few of the bullet-point symptoms that aggressively flash over the TV.
This book did not bring out indifference in me. Some of the author’s points I passionately agreed with. I absolutely question the sanity of allowing economic forces to drive the mental health field, especially when it comes to children. As the author points out, “Developing new drugs or re-purposing old ones and prescribing them to children, has been immensely profitable to drug companies and to the scores of psychiatrists and medical researchers who accept financial perks from the pharmaceutical industry.”
I’m also a firm believer in the art of holistic healing; which includes mind, body and spirit. There is no doubt that therapy is highly beneficial to our minds. Sometimes getting a new perspective can change the way you look at your entire world. It’s never too late to open the lines of communication and start repairing old hurts and misunderstandings, and talking to a therapist puts you on the fast track to that healing.
Like the author, I believe that even though it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it could just be a fish. There are many behaviors that mimic neurological symptoms that could simply be the manifestation of unrest in a child’s environment (amongst other things like diet and sleep patterns), and that is something that should be looked at before jumping into a diagnosis and correlating medication.
Though I appreciated the variety of cases presented, I would have liked to have seen the results from different children suffering from the same symptoms to be able to really grab on to some consistency. As an adult with ADHD, I was interested in a particular case study with a child thought to be ADHD, who had been showing signs of focus and attention difficulties and was disruptive in the classroom. Through family therapy, the author was able to find the source of the behavioral issues and the corresponding diagnosis and medication was never needed.
There lies one small issue I have with the book – the assumption that ADHD only manifests as issues with focus, attention and behavior. It’s just not that black and white. I’m not saying that therapy isn’t beneficial for those suffering from true neurological disorders, because I believe it is. Therapy is a MUST in our box of tools. I’m just saying, if a kid doesn’t have ADHD but is exhibiting ADHD symptoms, there is a possibility of some discord somewhere that child-focused family therapy can address; but if a kid actually has ADHD, that’s a whole different bucket of worms. No amount of therapy is going to give a kid executive function skills that didn’t have them to begin with.
Family therapy can help an ADHD child and their family develop coping skills and change perspective, but no amount of therapy is going to change the physiology of the ADHD brain, and I was disappointed at the author’s following view on physical evidence of these differences; “ Consider, finally, the “scientific evidence” for a biological cause of children’s psychological problems. How do we account for the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that show in vivid color how the brains of ‘mentally ill’ children differ from the brains of other children? This research is impressive, but framing a child’s behavior as brain disease leaves out an important observation. A child may be troubled at school but not at home or vice versa. If he’s troubled only at school, what happens to his ‘brain disease’ when he is at home or a friend’s house? If a kid with school problems behaves well at his grandparents’ house, where he can focus for hours on an exciting video game, what happens to his brain disease…?”
Individuals familiar with ADHD and the co-morbid conditions that follow, know quite well that there are many factors that come into play where symptoms are concerned, including but definitely not limited to: sensory factors, over-stimulation, interest in the environment and hyper-focus. It’s not uncommon at all for a child with ADHD to have trouble focusing at school or with anything seemingly uninteresting, but then come home and hyper-focus on something deemed “interesting” for hours at a time. That’s pretty much how we roll!
Bottom Line: Pills Are Not for Preschoolers offers valuable advice and a much-needed new perspective on the way we look at, communicate with, and treat troubled kids organically and within their family dynamics and environment.
Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., lic. MFT, is a family therapist and author of two books and numerous professional articles in the field of family therapy. She has a Bachelor’s Degree and a Doctorate from the University of Chicago, where she had a fellowship from the Danforth Foundation. She had a post-doctoral fellowship (supported by the National Institute for the Humanities) at the Hastings Center for Bioethics in New York. She has taught at the California State University, East Bay, the College of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago Extension.
In 1979-1980, she volunteered in Cochas Chico, a rural village high in the Peruvian Andes. There she helped native artisans start a craft co-op to sell their weavings and carvings.
Dr. Wedge has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal. She writes for a number of online websites including Babble.com, Mamapedia.com and ModernMom.com. She has consulted for People Magazine (August 22, 2011), Parenting Magazine (November, 2011) and Natural Health Magazine (Sept./Oct. 2012) on issues of child development and how to parent happy, healthy children.
She is a popular presenter at national and international conferences, including three Milton Erickson Foundation Conferences and two annual conferences of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). She has a private practice in Westlake Village, California, where she sees children, teens, couples, and individuals.
She has been married for thirty-one years to her husband Gene, and they have three grown children and two grandchildren. They live in Oak Park California. In her leisure time, she enjoys ocean swimming, reading, and spending time with grandsons Theo and Hawthorne.
You can visit Marilyn at the following: