Q. My 8-year-old son was recently diagnosed by a Christian psychologist as having ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The psychologist recommended Ritalin, but I am hesitant to put him on this medication because I believe God made my son the way he is for a reason. Does God really want us to change our children's behavior through medication?
A. First, you should be commended for taking your son in for a psychological assessment, which should have included ADHD questionnaires for parents, teachers, and others, a computerized attention test, and a clinical interview to ascertain the pattern, intensity, frequency, and duration of the attention problem. Many parents don't know where to get these tests done or they don't understand the benefits of professional testing. ADHD often mimics other conditions such as childhood depression, so it's important to have a professional evaluation. (Go to www.ADD.org for a list of professionals in your area.)
While the Bible doesn't speak to the use of medication in this type of situation, God has given us strong minds with which we can assess his path. If your child were diabetic, you would not withhold insulin from him. I believe the same principle applies here. Your son has a problem that can be treated with medication. If you trust the psychologist and believe that your son's behavior cannot be managed without Ritalin, then you can feel justified in using medication. In addition to medication, I recommend four to six sessions with an ADHD specialist on impulse control to help your son begin a better school experience.
While our children are created in the image of God, it is unwise to see them?or ourselves?as finished products. Children need the intervention of the adults in their lives to help them become the people God created them to be. It seems your son needs help controlling his impulses and energy, not only for his benefit, but for the benefit of others. God can use your son's unique personality for his glory, whether you put your son on Ritalin or not. But if you have committed this matter to prayer, believe that you have been given wise counsel from the psychologist, and see Ritalin helping your son manage his behavior, you can trust that God will honor your decision.
Should I Live with Mom or Dad?
Q. I'm a 12-year-old girl. My mom and dad got divorced when I was 3. I live with my mom now, but I'm thinking of living with my dad. I am scared about making this decision. What should I do?
A. Whether you end up moving or not, it's important that you try to have a good relationship with both of your parents. Mothers and daughters your age are prone to argue. If this is the case with you and your mom, tell your mom you want to have a talk and schedule a mother-daughter meeting over ice cream or lunch. Share your concerns by using "I" statements, where you say something like, "Mom, I feel hurt when you ? " Talk about solutions you think would help the two of you get along better. If the problem is that you want to see more of your dad, set up the same kind of meeting with him and develop some solutions to help you see more of each other.
Give these plans two to three months, then re-evaluate your plan to move. If you are still unsure of what to do, make a list of the pros and cons of moving and staying. Keep in mind factors such as the stress that comes from changing schools and neighborhoods, and finding new friends.
If after this exercise, you still want to make a change, set up another meeting with your mom and review your list with her. This is likely to be an upsetting conversation for her, so try to stay calm. If the conversation turns into an argument, don't threaten to leave?that will only upset her more. Instead, tell her you want to work out an arrangement that works for both of you. If you feel you've accomplished nothing, ask your mom to set up a meeting with a Christian family therapist (your pastor can help you find one) to discuss the matter more effectively and help guide you both to a good solution. Remember that God is with you as you make this decision and wants to be your Wonderful Counselor. Hang in there.
When to Quit
Q. My third grader wants to quit taking piano lessons even though his teacher says he has natural talent. He never wants to practice and our arguments lead to tears. It would be easier if he quits, but I don't want to encourage quitting when things get tough.
A. Before you make any decisions, check with your son's piano teacher to rule out a slump in his learning curve. This could be the cause of his frustration. A simple change in lesson plans may cure his urge to quit. If this is not the problem, then your decision needs to be based on two factors: your goals for your son and his goals for himself. The following suggestions will help you evaluate your situation:
? Review the original goals you set for your son. Why did you start having him take lessons? Is it your life dream to have your son play the piano? Do you want to give your son basic music literacy and appreciation? Determine if these are still appropriate goals.
? Ask your son why he first wanted to take lessons. Is he interested in music? Ask why he wants to quit. Is it the practicing? Doesn't he like his teacher? Use his answers to talk with him about the value of sticking with something even when it's not what you expected.
? Decide how old your son must be before he can make his own decisions about the activities he's involved in. The answer will depend on his maturity level, his ability to think through the ramifications of a decision, and his willingness to stick with a decision once it's been made.
If you decide to let your son quit, explain that he still needs to fulfill his commitment for the year. This includes practicing without complaining. Ask your son to help decide appropriate consequences if he doesn't follow through.
Pray with your son about the new plan and go ahead with it unless prayer reveals that God has other ideas.
Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy.
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