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Drugging Kids For a Little Peace and Quiet

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Most experts agree -- using cold and allergy medicine to sedate kids is wrong. But that doesn't stop parents.

Mom giving medicine to son

If flying is a hassle, flying with kids is a nightmare. As seats get smaller and in-flight amenities fewer, more and more parents are dosing their kids with sleeping aids to make it though long flights hassle-free. According to a poll on the website lilsugar, a whooping 58% of parents think it's okay to use Benadryl, an allergy medicine or other medicinal sleep aids to help kids sleep on a plane.

"Benadryl is not intended as a sedative," warns pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson. "It is an antihistamine meant to help treat allergic symptoms. It is not a convenience for parents to help with an "extended nap" on airplanes. Additionally," says Dr. Cara, "The FDA came out with a warning earlier this year to change the labeling on many cough and cold medications warning parents "should not give to children under age 4."

And the risks can be deadly.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, cough and cold preparations like Benadryl account for about 27 deaths per year in children under six.

"I'm against Benadryl used for anything other than allergy treatment, and so are most pediatricians and sleep experts," says Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Regardless, many parents insist drugging kids is "the only way to fly." Some even go further and use the method when they simply need a break.

"Parents do it who are tired and stressed out," explains, Dr. Gwenn. "I hear parents [in my practice] tell me 'she doesn't sleep so I give them Benadryl." Apparently, it's a very dangerous habit. "There is a safety window that can be easily exceeded messing with your kid's clock -- which is what makes us sleep."

At what point does the use of sedatives become a form of child abuse?

"You could argue it's always abuse," states Dr. Gwenn. "There's a very fine line. But a 'normal' parent will call 911 if there was a problem relating to the dosage, a parent who has done something suspicious won't."

There is mounting evidence the high-profile saga of accused murder Casey Anthony is just one of those cases. Momlogic reported last month Casey Anthony's defense team said if Anthony's daughter, Caylee was indeed dead, "it was almost certainly a tragic accident," and she was possibly poisoned by chloroform or she could have died while she was sedated. Basically, they claim it could have been an accident.

While anyone would be loath to compare their own practice of sedating a child on an airplane  to Casey's alleged use of chloroform, there are some similarities. As one momlogic reader put it, "I don't think I know any moms who haven't at least considered giving their kid(s) Benadryl for a plane ride, *If* the chloroform story is indeed what happened, it's only a difference of degree. Either action is still drugging your child to make your life easier."

In the last three years, ten daycare centers tried to make their lives easier by workers allegedly sedating children with cold medicines and cough syrups. Four babies died in those cases. Sabine Bieber, former owner of Tiny Tots Day Care in Montana, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for giving one-year-old Dane Heggem a fatal dose of generic allergy medicine  (without the parents permission) to manage their nap times.

"Sadly, it could happen to anyone," cautions Dr. Gwenn. "If you're going to use something off-label -- for a purpose other than its intended use -- you could easily be accused of wrongdoing. Benadryl is used for allergies. A lot of parents don't know how to give these drugs properly -- they misjudge their child's weight, for example."

A parent needs to be prepared to answer that if something goes wrong. "Essentially," concluded Dr. Gwenn, "You're taking your child's life in your hands."

Is It OK to drug kids for airplane rides?


next: Hug a School Counselor, Get Arrested
30 comments so far | Post a comment now
Melissa November 19, 2008, 4:40 PM

Why do people think it is ok to feed their children drugs? Do they equally admit they are unfit parents? They must be or they could handle their children. This makes me so sad. These same parents will wonder why their children abuse drugs when they are older. Hello! Parents..just do the right thing. Play a game, color a picture together. Do not drug your kids!

Anonymous November 19, 2008, 4:49 PM

vj there is no allergin components in catching a cold. A cold is caused by a virus. They put in antihistamine to stop the nose from draining.

It is not cool to drug your kids for anything. You should not use medication for any purpose other than the intended use. If you need peace and quiet hire a sitter, put your child in a mother’s day out program, or find a fun activity that will help you child expel the stored up energy. Do not put your child’s health at risk for your own selfishness.

eddie November 19, 2008, 5:02 PM

I am a single father of 3 and can never see me drugging my kids. As it is when my oldest was younger school kept insisting I take to doctor because he is adhd, which I did and when I gave him the first pill at home,and seen him sit there watching tv and really, really quit, just hypnotized with the tv, I told myself nope thats not my kid and never gave him the pills again. But then again I always hated most medications unless absolutely necesary, because of all the risk you take with them. My kids are my life and I enjoy every second with them, wether they are driving me nuts or not, thats what kids are for, you just have to know how to cope with them and have fun. And when I tell my kids to behave they do. Any parent that drugs their kids to have peace and quiet, should have thought about that before having them.

Anna November 20, 2008, 2:03 AM

if you are run ragged with your kids wouldn’t it be better to say… bring them to daycare once a week or a few hours a day, instead of drugging your kids everytime you need a break? Mom’s idea is also an exillent idea, my mother used to have tea party’s with me all the time and I would invite all my stuffed animals to join, it makes fond memories and is a good way to bond with your kid. and tea did help me calm down.

tammy November 24, 2008, 2:27 PM

My daughter has the opposite affect with Benadryl, it causes her to bounce off the walls. She had bad allergies and I was told to give it to her. Recently, I couldn’t sleep, so I took some of her Children’s Benadryl and it knocked me out for 8 hours and made me feel really drugged feeling the next day. I took the dosage for a 8 year old. Horrible. The dentist gave my son Xanex (small dosage) for a filling because he had extreme fear of needles, but instead of calming him down, it wired him and made him goofy. No work was done on his teeth that day, he was 12 at the time.

WKBWLuigeena November 26, 2008, 5:17 AM

So the parents are the reasons why kids become drug addicts. So the ‘rents trained their kids to be drug lords/addicts at a young age. Oh please, stop getting your kid high on drugs. I only drank sedators when i am having disturbing coughs.

Parents this days want drugs to rule their kids, yet the parents would be like”now my kid is drugged up, i shouldn’t have made him drink drugs back in his childhood, now im doomed!”

Pritina November 26, 2008, 1:43 PM

You know, some kids (like some adults) are “Allergic” to plane rides and just dont feel comfortable/safe flying. I am not a lazy Mother; I wouldnt let my child suffer a fever with out giving him Tylenol, and I wont let him suffer a 4 hour flight scared out of his mind. I dont like to see my son cry out of fear - to me it does more damage to us both emotionally, than the correct dosage of Benadryl - being that he is of age to take it.

Lisa November 27, 2008, 9:32 PM

When my dd was 9 mths old, she got to a point where she would not sleep longer than 1 1/2 hrs at night. When she woke she seemed to be in discomfort. I turned to our pediatrician for help. I knew something wasn’t right. Our pediatrician told me to give her a dose of Benadryl that it was just a bad habit! I was shocked but in my post-partum depression state I followed the Dr’s advice. A few days later we found out that she had a urinary tract infection, which was why she was unable to sleep. I felt so guilty but I had only followed the advice of my pediatrician. My dd was nearly 3 before she slept through the night. But we survived.

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