1. About methylphenidate for children
Methylphenidate belongs to a group of medicines, called stimulants. They work by increasing activity in the brain, particularly in areas that help control attention and behaviour.
Methylphenidate is used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It helps with hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour, and allows them to concentrate better. It is also used to treat adults with ADHD or narcolepsy (a sleep disorder).
Methylphenidate is only available on prescription. It comes as tablets and capsules called immediate release or extended release.
Some children may need to take both extended and immediate release methylphenidate to help improve their ADHD.
For adults aged 18 and over, read our information on methylphenidate for adults.
2. Key facts
- Methylphenidate is a controlled drug, which means that you may have to prove your identity when collecting your prescription. Collect your prescription within 28 days.
- If your child takes extended release methylphenidate, give it to them once a day. If they are taking immediate release tablets or capsules, your doctor may recommend giving it up to 3 times a day.
- It’s best to stick to the same brand, particularly if your child has extended release methylphenidate.
- Methylphenidate makes your child less hyperactive and impulsive, and helps them concentrate.
- Methylphenidate for children is also known by the brand names Matoride, Tranquilin, Xaggitin and Xenidate.
3. Who can and cannot take methylphenidate
Methylphenidate can be taken by most children aged 4 and over, although, it is not suitable for all children. Tell your child's doctor before they start taking this medicine if:
- they have ever had an allergic reaction to methylphenidate or any other medicine
- they have difficulty swallowing, as some brands may not be suitable
- they have heart problems
- they have an overactive thyroid
- have a tumour in the adrenal gland (phaeochromocytoma)
- they have mental health problems (or a close family member has mental health problems)
- they have high blood pressure or problems with their blood vessels, such as vasculitis
- they have epilepsy
- they have sudden muscle twitches in their face or body (tics), or there is a close family member with Tourette's syndrome
- either they or a a close family member has glaucoma
4. How and when to give methylphenidate to children
Always follow the advice of your child's doctor and the instructions that come with the medicine.
The usual dose of methylphenidate depends on whether your child has immediate release or extended release medicine. In some cases, the specialist may prescribe both.
Immediate release are standard tablets and capsules. Although they are called immediate release, they can still take a while to start working.
Extended release tablets and capsules are sometimes called modified release, or prolonged release. These tablets and capsules let the medicine pass into your child's body gradually.
Dose for immediate release tablets and capsules
The usual starting dose for children is 5mg, given once or twice a day. Your doctor may increase your child's dose gradually (usually weekly) until they find the dose that works best. Your child may need to take it 2 or 3 times a day.
Give your child their methylphenidate first thing in the morning. If they have a second dose, give it to them at around lunchtime (early afternoon) and, if prescribed, a third dose in the late afternoon or evening.
Try to leave at least 4 hours between doses. If your child has a third dose, try to give it to them at least 4 hours before bedtime so it does not affect their sleep.
Although they are called immediate release, it can still take a while for the medicine to work. You may not see any changes in behaviour straight away.
Let your child's school know if they need to take their medicine during the school day.
Dosage for extended release tablets and capsules
Extended release tablets and capsules start to work with a first release of the medicine into the body. After that, the medicine continues to release into the body more slowly.
The usual starting dose for:
- tablets is 18mg, given once in the morning - your child's doctor may gradually increase the dose by 18mg at a time (usually weekly, up to 54mg max) until they find the dose that works well for your child.
- capsules is 10mg, given once in the morning - your child's doctor may increase the dose gradually (usually weekly, up to 60mg max) until they find the dose that works well for your child.
If your child is taking Equasym XL, give them their medicine about 30 minutes before breakfast. If they're taking Medikinet XL, give it to them with or after breakfast.
How to give children tablets or capsules
Give your child the tablets or capsules with a drink of water, milk or juice. Tell them to swallow the medicine whole, not chew it.
If your child has problems swallowing pills, then it's OK to crush immediate release tablets (Medikinet or Ritalin). Mix the crushed tablets with a small amount of soft food such as yogurt, honey or jam.
Do not crush or break extended release tablets because the medicine will not work properly.
However, if your child takes extended release capsules, you can open the capsule and mix the contents with a small amount of soft food such as yogurt, honey or jam.
Give your child the mixture straight away and tell them to swallow it without chewing.
Will their dose go up or down?
Your child will usually start on a low dose of methylphenidate, taken once or twice a day. The doctor will increase the dose gradually, until they find the dose that works best for your child.
If your child starts on immediate release methylphenidate, the doctor may later switch them to extended release slow-release methylphenidate. They only have to take this once a day.
How long will they take it for?
If methylphenidate is working well to control your child's symptoms, they might need to take it for several months or even years. However, it's not usually a life-long medicine.
Your doctor will usually monitor how your child is every 6 months. This gives them a better idea about how your child is getting on with their medicine and whether they still need it.
What if my child is sick?
If your child is sick (vomits) less than 30 minutes after taking their methylphenidate, give them the same dose again.
If it’s more than 30 minutes after taking their medicine, do not give your child another dose, just wait until their next dose is due.
If your child is sick again, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
What if I forget to give a dose?
If you forget to give your child their medicine, skip the missed dose and wait until it’s time for the next dose. Give them the next dose as usual.
Never give them a double dose to make up for a forgotten dose.
If you forget doses often, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask your pharmacist for advice on other ways to help you remember to give your child their medicine.
What if they take too much?
The amount of methylphenidate that can lead to an overdose varies from person to person.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if:
Your child takes too much methylphenidate and has:
- a seizure or fit (uncontrollable jerking and shaking)
- a fast, slow or uneven heart beat (palpitations) – your child may feel their heart is beating faster or slower than normal or may say it is racing
Take the methylphenidate packet, or the leaflet inside it, plus any remaining medicine with you.
Keep methylphenidate in a cupboard. Make sure children cannot see or reach this medicine.
5. Side effects
Like all medicines, methylphenidate can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.
Common side effects
These common side effects may happen in more than 1 in 100 people:
- trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- loss of appetite - this can lead to weight loss or poor weight gain
- stomach ache
- dry mouth
- feeling or being sick (nausea or vomiting)
Keep giving your child the medicine, but tell your doctor if they bother your child or do not go away:
Serious side effects
Serious side effects are uncommon and happen in less than 1 in 100 people.
Tell your doctor straight away if your child:
- has changes in mood or personality
- has thoughts about harming themselves
- has a fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations) - your child may feel their heart is beating much faster than normal or may say it is racing
- starts seeing, feeling or hearing things that are not real (hallucinations)
- has started to get facial tics - these are quick, little movements in the muscles of the face that cannot be controlled and are sudden, if this starts happening, their doctor will stop your treatment
Methylphenidate can also cause a small increase in blood pressure and pulse rate. For this reason, your doctor will usually measure your child’s blood pressure and pulse every 6 months.
Growth in children
If your child takes methylphenidate for longer than a year, it can slow down their growth. However this happens in less than 1 in 10 children.
Your doctor will check your child’s height, weight and appetite every 6 months to make sure they are growing OK.
Serious allergic reaction
In rare cases, it's possible to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to methylphenidate.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E now if:
- you get a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
- you're wheezing
- you get tightness in the chest or throat
- you have trouble breathing or talking
- your mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat start swelling
You could be having a serious allergic reaction and may need immediate treatment in hospital.
These are not all the side effects of methylphenidate. For a full list, see the leaflet inside the medicine packet.
You can report any suspected side effect using the Yellow Card safety scheme.
6. How to cope with side effects of methylphenidate
What to do about:
- headaches – make sure your child rests and drinks plenty of fluids. Painkillers such as paracetamol (Calpol) can help. Talk to your doctor if your child's headaches are severe or do not go away.
- anxiety – this may go away as your child gets used to the medicine. If it does not, speak to your doctor. They may want to recommend a lower dose or try a different medicine.
- trouble sleeping – if your child is finding it hard to sleep, try giving the last dose at least 6 hours before bedtime. Speak to your doctor if this does not help. They may want to try extended release instead.
- loss of appetite – it may help to give them methylphenidate with a meal. You may notice they lose some weight during the first few months of treatment. Your child will probably put this weight back on once they are used to the medicine. If you notice they are losing a lot of weight speak to your doctor.
- dry mouth – this usually improves quite quickly. It may help to give them small sips of water and citrus fruits like oranges or satsumas.
- feeling or being sick – stick to simple meals and do not give your child rich or spicy food if they feel sick. It might help to give them their methylphenidate with or after a meal or snack. If they are being sick, encourage them to take small, frequent sips of water or squash to avoid dehydration. If your child keeps being sick or having severe stomach pains, see a doctor.
7. Cautions with other medicines
There are some medicines that can affect the way methylphenidate works.
If your child is taking any of the following medicines, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before giving them methylphenidate:
- medicines to treat depression or other mental health problems
- medicines for epilepsy
- blood pressure medicines
- medicines that treat or prevent blood clots
- medicines for coughs and colds
Some cough and cold medicines can affect blood pressure so speak to your pharmacist or doctor if you're buying these for your child. It’s important to check whether they are OK for them to have while taking methylphenidate.
Mixing methylphenidate with herbal remedies and supplements
There's very little information about taking herbal remedies and supplements while taking methylphenidate. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving any to your child.
Some studies have suggested that omega-3 and omega-6 supplements can help with ADHD. However, the evidence is limited and more research is needed.
Important: Medicine safety
Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you're taking any other medicines, including herbal medicines, vitamins or supplements.
8. Common questions about methylphendiate for children
How does methylphenidate work?
Methylphenidate belongs to a group of medicines called stimulants. They increase activity in the brain, particularly in areas that help control attention and behaviour.
It's not known exactly how methylphenidate works. It's thought to boost the levels of chemicals called dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain.
This can increase activity in the parts of your child's brain that control attention and behaviour.
This makes them less hyperactive or impulsive. It will also help them to pay attention and concentrate better.
How long does it take to work?
When your child first starts taking methylphenidate they will be on a low dose. Your doctor will usually increase this gradually until they find the dose that works for your child.
This means it might take a few weeks before you see any benefits. When your doctor has found the right dose, methylphenidate should start to work within 30 to 60 minutes of your child taking it.
The medicine makes your child less hyperactive or impulsive, and helps their concentration. How quickly it works depends on whether it’s immediate or extended release.
How long will my child take it for?
Your child may need to take methylphenidate for several months or even years. They will not usually need to take it for the rest of their life.
Your child will have regular check-ups, usually every 6 months or so.
Your doctor may recommend stopping methylphenidate for a while, or reducing the dose. This will normally be during the school holidays and can be called “a medicine break”. This is to check whether it’s still helping.
As your child gets to puberty, or just after, the doctor may stop their methylphenidate. But if the medicine is still helping, they may recommend that your child keep taking it, even as an adult.
Is it safe to take for a long time?
There is no evidence that methylphenidate is harmful as long as it is taken exactly as prescribed and your child is monitored carefully. This is why it’s a good idea for them to have regular reviews with their doctor to check whether it’s still needed.
What will happen if my child stops taking it?
Only stop giving your child methylphenidate if your doctor tells you to.
If your child suddenly stops taking methylphenidate, you may notice withdrawal symptoms such as depression.
Talk to your doctor if you want to stop giving your child methylphenidate. They may want to slowly reduce the amount that your child takes before stopping completely. This is to help avoid any extra side effects.
Is it addictive?
As long as you follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, methylphenidate does not generally cause addiction issues.
Do not stop giving methylphenidate to your child suddenly. Talk to your doctor first, as they may want to reduce the dose gradually. This reduces the risk of your child having extra side effects when they stop taking this medicine.
Addiction problems usually only occur if you give methylphenidate more often than prescribed, or at a higher dose than recommended.
Is there any food or drink they need to avoid?
There’s no particular food or drink that your child needs to avoid when taking methylphenidate.
Are medicines the first treatment option for children with ADHD?
If a child has ADHD, their doctor will usually only prescribe a medicine if other treatments have not helped. Their symptoms may still be causing problems, even after trying practical things like:
- taking regular breaks to move around
- reducing distractions, for example by using headphones
- having instructions written down clearly
Medicines are usually only used for ADHD as part of a treatment programme. Other treatments can include:
- therapies to improve specific skills and behaviours
- training for parents to help them manage their child’s behaviour
- additional support at school
If you have any questions or worries about your child’s medicine, speak to your doctor.
What if methylphenidate is not helping my child?
Some people find that methylphenidate does not work for their child. In this case, the doctor may recommend trying a different medicine or psychological treatments.
Other medicines for ADHD include dexamfetamine, lisdexamfetamine and atomoxetine.
Non-medicine treatments for ADHD include, behavioural therapy and talking therapy.
Speak to your doctor if you are interested in finding out about alternative treatments. Do not stop giving your child methylphenidate without talking to your doctor first.
Can taking supplements help ADHD?
Some studies have suggested that omega-3 and omega-6 supplements can help with ADHD. Howeve, the evidence is very limited and more research is needed.
Talk to your doctor before giving any supplements to your child. This is because some can react with medicine - causing side effects, or can make the medicine work less well.