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Medicating your kids for peace and quiet: Is it ever OK?

Aug. 10, 2011 at 7:05 AM ET

Every mom wants a little peace and quiet. But some moms are taking drastic measures to get it.

In our TODAY Moms and Parenting.com poll of more than 26,000 mothers, one in five admitted to giving their children medicine such as Benadryl or Dramamine to get through a big event, like a long car ride or plane trip.

More disturbing: One in 12 moms confessed to regularly dosing their kids with sleep-inducing medication, just to get some peace and quiet on a normal night.

Related: Read more from our Mom Secrets survey

Moms wrote to us anonymously:

“I give my younger daughter Benadryl and Tylenol almost every night – she loves the taste and begs for it.”

“I gave my child Benadryl to go to sleep – years later now, I am still embarrassed to admit it.”

“I gave my child Benadryl when he was mildly congested to guarantee he would fall asleep on time so I could get to bed at a decent hour.”

A hit of Benadryl before a long trip is pretty standard practice, though it may not win you Mother of the Year award (except maybe from your fellow passengers on a cross-country flight).

Top 10 juiciest mom confessions from our new partner, Parenting.com

“I suspect that one in five is low,” said Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, who says parents should talk to their pediatricians about proper dosage. (She adds that every doctor she knows who’s also a parent has tried this trick at some point, so don’t feel shy about telling your doctor.)

“The biggest risk is overdose or an adverse reaction,” Snyderman said.

Of course, there are other dangers: “Not all kids get drowsy on Benadryl,” Snyderman noted. “My kids used to get hyper on it. So it can backfire.”

But turning to medication just to get your kid to sleep indicates a deeper problem. “Every day is not OK. Drugs are never an OK substitute for parenting,” Snyderman said. “If a mother is drugging a kid that much, it’s a parenting issue.”

Join TODAY Moms editor Rebecca Dube for a Facebook chat about our secrets survey on Thursday.

So, what’s going on here? For the most part, it’s desperation, not malice. Moms are so starved for a little downtime that they’re resorting to extreme and maybe even unsafe measures at the end of a long day. Elsewhere in our survey, moms told us how they crave peace and quiet:

  • 23 percent miss alone time more than anything else from their pre-baby life; 14 percent miss sleep the most.
  • 53 percent would rather have a night of uninterrupted sleep rather than a night of mind-blowing sex.
  • 30 percent use their jobs to avoid child care (not that work is peaceful or quiet – but sometimes it feels that way, compared to a house full of kids).

And the pressures of modern motherhood may be driving moms to extreme measures, says Wendy Mogel, TODAY Moms contributor and the author of “The Blessings of a Skinned Knee.”

“Moms are so nervous – what if she doesn’t get to sleep, then she’ll be tired and she has a math test tomorrow and then after the math test we have to go right to soccer practice…” Mogel told TODAY.com, her voice trailing off to indicate the never-ending to-do list that lives in every mom’s mind. “We’re taking shortcuts because parents are desperate.”

Related post: Wendy Mogel’s 12-step program for helicopter parents

Besides the health concerns, Mogel said, the problem is that by medicating kids to sleep, moms are depriving them of the chance to learn how to calm down and put themselves to sleep.

Related: Even the TODAY Moms editor has secrets

“We’re not giving them a chance to learn how to manage themselves,” Mogel said. Ironically, that just escalates the stress cycle for the moms, because when your 8-year-old can’t fall asleep on his own, whose problem is that? You guessed it, mom to the rescue. Moms feel overwhelmed because they areoverwhelmed -- they’re doing more for their kids than they should be, Mogel said, and medicating them to sleep is just one example.

How about you? Have you resorted to Benadryl (or similar medication)? Do you get enough peace and quiet – and if so, how do you do it?

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