You don’t necessarily want to give your child heavy-duty medication when he or she has a backache or a cold or is having trouble sleeping. But before you turn to an herbal remedy like echinacea or an alternative therapy like massage, make sure you talk to your child’s doctor. Most of these treatments haven’t been tested in kids, whose immune and central nervous systems aren’t fully formed, so experts don’t always know how children might react to them. Plus, some may cause dangerous complications when taken with certain medications or if your child is having surgery.
In one national study, researchers found that nearly 12 percent of kids under age 18 had used some form of complementary medicine in the past year, most often to treat back or neck pain or colds. Still, not all such treatments even do much good for children: One study of 407 kids with colds found that echinacea, an herb commonly used to prevent and treat upper respiratory tract infections, didn’t make the problem any better or help kids feel better faster than a placebo. Another smaller study found that St. John’s wort, an herb that’s often given to children who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), was no better than a placebo at improving symptoms.
If your child’s healthcare provider agrees that an alternative therapy like massage or chiropractic might help your child, make sure you research the practitioner and find out about his or her education, training and licensing; experience working with kids; and relationship with other healthcare providers. And if your provider agrees that you should try a certain herbal remedy, be sure to follow up with him or her if any complications or side effects arise.