Prepare Your Child to Take Medication When You’re Not There

 ADHD Weekly, November 16, 2023

It’s exciting when your child is old enough to travel independently for a class trip, a summer camp, or to visit family. You might worry, though, whether your child will take their medication and follow their treatment plan while they’re away from home. Teens traveling by themselves for the first time will want to be prepared, especially if it’s their first time taking medication on their own.

Traveling solo is a great opportunity for a teen to take charge of their health. It’s also a good preview of responsibilities they need to handle as they become adults and move out of the house. You can help your child prepare to travel solo as a step toward responsible adulthood.

Talk about solo ADHD management

Communication before your child leaves on their trip is key. Set aside time to discuss the importance of taking their medication while they are away from home. Ask if they have noticed times when their medication has helped them perform daily tasks, focus on classwork, and drive more safely. For many teens with ADHD, these tasks cannot be managed well without medication. A friendly conversation that reminds your child why they take medication can help them prepare for traveling alone.

If your teen has ever been reluctant to take their medication or doesn’t believe their ADHD-related behaviors are an issue, you can discuss these concerns as well. Dan Shapiro, MD, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, stresses the importance of talking about their ADHD symptoms and the importance of taking their medication as prescribed.

“Most importantly, from the very beginning, open communication sends your child a powerfully positive and inclusive message: It’s okay to have ADHD and take medicine. We’ve all got something,” says Dr. Shapiro. Ongoing conversations, when you really listen to their concerns, may help alleviate their worries and reduce any stigma they feel about taking medication.

Develop a plan

Airlines provide support for minors traveling solo, but that doesn’t include assistance with taking medication. If your child will be traveling by air, make sure they pack their medication and that it is in the labeled bottle from the pharmacy. Help them navigate taking their medication during travel by developing a plan. For instance, will they be on a flight when they need to take an afternoon dose of their medication? If so, they need to have water handy and to pack their medication in their carry-on bag. If they will be traveling through several time zones, help them to figure out what time they should take their medication. Having this all planned out will make it easier for your child to take their medication consistently.

If they are traveling alone internationally, different rules apply when traveling with stimulant medication depending on the country or countries. Research these rules together with your child so that they understand the importance of following foreign laws on medications.

If your child tends to forget to take their medication, check out different tools that can help. Show them how to set a reminder on their smartphone or help them find an app that will remind them to take their medication. If your child frequently misplaces things, take this into consideration as you help them develop their travel plan. Kate Barrett, a writer and ADHD coach, works with children and young adults to help them follow their treatment plan. She recommends figuring out the barriers that get in the way of your child taking their medication consistently.

“Landing spots and points of performance can become really important for remembering to take that medication,” she says. “If it’s not an issue of ‘I forgot because my alarm didn’t go off,’ but it’s ‘I forgot because I can’t remember where I put my medication’ or ‘I put it in a different place every day.’ That’s when you start thinking about where can I put it where I will regularly be able to remind myself more easily.”

Make sure your child has a plan for where they will put their medication at their destination. Discuss how to identify a safe place they can keep their medicine that will also help them remember to take it regularly. Other tools like days-of-the-week pill containers can help your child remember to take their medicine daily and easily determine whether they missed a dose. They should travel with the container empty and put their medication into the weekly container after they have arrived at their destination.

If your child is traveling on a school trip or to the home of a relative, talk with an adult who will be present and ask if they will check in with your child about taking their medication.

Discuss what worked

When your child comes home, spend some time talking about their successes in taking their medication independently. If they didn’t take their medication or took it inconsistently, ask why so you can problem-solve together about ways to help them do better in the future. This is especially important because as your child gets older and moves out of the house, the responsibility for taking their medication will fall entirely to them. Traveling solo is an excellent opportunity to practice this responsibility before they become an adult.

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Join the discussion: Has your child traveled solo? How did you prepare them for the responsibility of taking their medication without supervision?