I just came back from the doctor, and I’m shaking. He recommended that my son who’s in second grade be medicated. He diagnosed him with ADHD and told me that it’ll take a while to figure out the correct dosage. I feel that he’s pushing medicine on my son as a way of controlling him. Isn’t it the rebbe’s and teacher’s job to deal with this?
This is an excellent question, and I’ve received many similar ones over the past few years. The reason that I’ve been loath to reply is simply because every case is different. Therefore, please excuse me if this answer seems a bit vague.
When I was a young boy I couldn’t sit still in class. I was unorganized and had the attention span of a flea. My teachers diagnosed me with a disease called “ants in the pants.” They didn’t really have a solution, but my teachers used to give me some space. Sure, I was yelled at and even punished, but, looking back, I think they were just confused. What do you do with a child who can’t seem to focus?
Nowadays, rebbeim and teachers are much more understanding. We are trained better and have more support from the administration. I vividly remember going to Rabbi Herzberg, a’h, in 1998 and asking what to do about a boy who couldn’t focus on any topic for more than 15 minutes. He replied, “If this was your son, what would you do?”
“Well, I guess I would break down the subject into 15-minute increments.”
He replied, “Great. He is yours. Make it work.”
My first solution was to stop learning every 10–15 minutes and schmooze with the boys about something for a short while. The problem was that the other boys were losing out. Therefore, I began sending him out of class on errands — for example, to get copies. That worked much better since the other boys had fewer interruptions. Nowadays, that solution rarely works, since there isn’t only one boy with ADHD in a class; there can be quite a few of them!
Now, let’s look at your question. You felt that the doctor was pushing medicine on your child. I have known certain doctors who were quick to medicate. That’s why it’s important to get a second opinion if you feel that way. Most doctors are very honest and are looking out for your child, and if they suggest medicating, they must feel that it’s necessary.
As a general rule, if your child is learning well in school, has friends, and the main issue is his or her behavior at home, I would hold off for a bit. This might not be that easy. If your child truly has ADHD, after a long day at school he can really get out of control. He’ll need to unwind and might be very difficult at home. Still, if you can manage it, it might be worth the effort.
However, if your child is disruptive in school, falling behind in his schoolwork, or is completely unmanageable at home, he should be medicated. There are many amazing options these days, and they can really help your child. He will be able to focus better, learn better, and will even behave better. Since every child is different, it can take some time for the doctor to find the proper dose, and he will probably want to speak to the rebbe or teacher for their input as well.
I want to reiterate that every child is different. There are some kids who can deal with ADHD or OCD without any help, and others who need all the help they can get. If your child needs medicine and you don’t let him have it, you’re not helping him at all. On the other hand, if your son is just a little rambunctious and you quickly medicate him, you’re not doing him any favors either.
I would like to address the last point you made. It is certainly not the rebbe’s or teacher’s job to deal exclusively with one child’s behavioral issues. We really do want every child to succeed. We do want to teach every child. However, we don’t want to babysit. You must understand that although discipline is a part of chinuch, it’s not something that we necessarily enjoy. When one child is constantly disrupting the class, it affects the education all of the other kids as well, and that’s not fair to them.
Wishing you hatzlachah.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.