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Your Child in the Balance

An Insider’s Guide for Parents to the Psychiatric Medicine Dilemma

A more timely book couldn’t have come across my desk this past month.

As we’ve discussed in our blog, World of Psychology, there is a growing backlash against prescribing strong psychiatric medications for children diagnosed with adult disorders (which, officially, aren’t recognized as childhood disorders because not enough research has been done on them to confirm they are, indeed, also childhood disorders). This has garnered attention recently because a child, at age 2 1/2, was diagnosed with not just one, but two, serious psychiatric disorders and subsequently died while taking antipsychotic medications not FDA-approved for children.

So the question is simple — When should children be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and when should psychiatric medications be prescribed to treat such children?

Dr. Kalikow has the answers.

His eminently readable 249-page book helps a parent facing the difficult challenge of their child having behavioral problems that require treatment a guide to what lies ahead for them. Kalikow writes in a manner that boils down all of the data and research into easily understandable chunks. I found it engaging and easy to follow, unlike some similar books that either sugar-coat the complexity of the challenges children face, or suggest one treatment fits all.

One treatment has never fit all, and Kalikow recognizes that, even devoting a chapter to the benefits of psychotherapy (while not a book about therapy, it’s nice to see its inclusion as a legitimate choice for parents to choose for their children).

The author takes the reader on a journey to describe where modern psychiatry resides today, in its understand of human behavior and the brain. He recognizes that while brain scans are pretty to look at, we still at our infancy in understanding what they mean in terms of disorder in adults and children. But that we’re getting there, slowly but surely.

Kalikow looks at how diagnoses are created and then validated for children, a process not unlike watching sausage getting made with its mix of politics, research, egos, and changing times. The author also describes the benefits and risks that psychiatry poses to children, as well as some of the lesser known side effects of the process. He finishes the book with some perspective on prescribing medications to children from a psychiatrist’s point of view, as well as his take on the “over prescription” controversy that surrounds popular childhood diagnoses, such as ADHD.

The book is accentuated with vignettes of personal case studies and examples that really help humanize the issues the book addresses. While many authors use this device as just literature litter to help round out their chapters, Kalikow weaves the stories into the chapters in a very personal, human way. It made me feel he understands exactly what parents are dealing with — it’s not just words on a page.

At the same time, if you’re an expert in the world of child psychiatry and your own child’s psychiatric or behavioral problems, you may find this book too academic or beginner for your needs. The author assumes the reader knows little about modern psychiatry and the controversies surrounding childhood diagnoses and treatment, so if you do know about these things, this book will likely shed little light on them for you.

However, if you are like most parents dealing with their child’s behavior problems and feeling (a) a little overwhelmed and (b) uncertain whether your child should be diagnosed with the disorder he or she is and (c) uncertain whether your child should be taking XYZ medication, this book is for you. It helps explain all of these things, puts them into context, and makes you feel like you have a lot more perspective and knowledge about childhood psychiatric issues.

Although I don’t agree with everything the author says (and honestly, would I ever?), I wholeheartedly recommend this book if you’re interested in this topic. I haven’t read a better book relating to the diagnosis and treatment of childhood psychiatric disorders.

Your Child in the Balance

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John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder & CEO of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues -- as well as the intersection of technology and human behavior -- since 1992. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member and treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine. He writes regularly and extensively on mental health concerns, the intersection of technology and psychology, and advocating for greater acceptance of the importance and value of mental health in today's society. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2016). Your Child in the Balance. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
Published on Psych All rights reserved.