Mighty Blog

“Children’s Pedcast”: Child life specialists on taking medicine

On Episode 4 of “Children’s Pedcast,” child life specialists Jeri Kayser, Sarah Magnuson and Sam Schackman join the show to talk about the different challenges parents face with kids of all ages when it comes to taking medicine, both short and long term. The trio provide tips and strategies for help and success during the most difficult times when med taking seems impossible.

Ideas for medicine taking

Developmental considerations

Infants: Birth to 18 months

  • Babies typically will react with any new flavor in their mouths; it’s important to avoid labeling the medicine as “yucky tasting” in response.
  • Be mindful of how you present the medicine, a positive attitude goes a long way.
  • Start practicing saying out loud what the medicine will be doing for your baby as you give it — it’s a good habit to start: “This medicine is going to help your ear feel better.”

Toddlers: 18 months to 2½ years

The hallmark of toddlers is to say “no” to anything and everything. If it’s not their idea, it’s probably not a good idea to them! Medicine fits neatly into something that is not their idea, so it helps to show them exactly why it should be their idea. “You told me your ear hurts and you want it to feel better, right (wait for the ‘yes’)? This medicine will make it feel better, but only if it gets down to your tummy.”

Pre-schoolers: 2½-5 years

They have had some life experience, tasted medicine and may not be excited to repeat that experience. Also, they are age-appropriately seeking control and recognize the opportunity for control when they zip their lips. Find ways to add fun as well as choices. Choices help a child regain control and still meet the goal of taking the medicine. Routine works well to help understand the time-limited nature of the experience. Sticker charts add a sense of accomplishment and measurement of progress.

School-age children: 5-12 years

Kids this age are old enough to understand how the medicine will help them but can become easily frustrated if they are struggling with the taste of medicine or difficulty swallowing a pill. Practicing with similar-sized candy is helpful if you work up in size to the size of the prescribed pill. Start with something small, like a Tic Tac, then incrementally larger candies until you get to the desired size. Finding opportunities to point out to your child how the medicine is helping them adds to their motivation.


Many teens don’t like to interrupt their lives or appear different in any way from their peers. It can be a challenge to coordinate their schedules with the requirements of taking a prescription. It’s helpful to walk through what it would be like to take the medicine and coordinate any necessary adjustments with your physician and pharmacist. The school nurse can be a great resource to make sure the medicine is taken. If your teen has a long-term medicine to take, this is a great time to teach them how to be responsible with their meds.

Behavioral support

  • Implement a routine for taking the medications: sitting in a certain chair, drinking something of their choice right after, etc.
  • Incorporate medical play with small candies and a doll or stuffed animal to practice the routine.
  • Give appropriate choices: Syringe or cup? Sitting at the table or sitting on the couch? Explain why the medicine is important. Older kids can understand if they take the medicine, their ear won’t hurt, etc.
  • Parents: Try to keep a positive attitude. Your child will be able sense your frustration, which will only make the situation more difficult. Work together toward your end goal.
  • Take the child to the store to buy a special cup and drink choice to chase after medicine.
  • Be honest. Never tell your child medicine is candy or try to hide medicine in food (it’s OK to use food/liquid to help administer the medicine — just make sure your child knows the medicine is there).
  • Use visual supports to help a child understand medicine routines. For instance, visual supports can help a child learn each important step to swallowing a pill and can even be used to help make the connection between taking the medicine and getting to enjoy that favorite activity (by showing a picture of a child taking medicine paired with a picture of the activity). You can download the ATN’s free Visual Supports toolkit.

Dealing with taste

Check with your physician and pharmacist on how medicine should be taken and what you can take it with before you try any of these suggestions.

  • Have a frozen treat (popsicle, etc.) or chew on ice prior to taking medicine. This “numbs” your taste buds to minimize taste.
  • When possible, crush it up and put it into pudding, applesauce, etc.
  • Mix crushed pills with frozen juice concentrate (numbs the taste buds and masks the taste). Grape, raspberry and lemonade are stronger flavors.
  • Mix crushed pills with maple syrup or coat the tongue with maple syrup to mask the taste.
  • Put the whole pill in a small spoonful of Jell-O.
  • Wash the tongue, scrub the taste buds if the taste is lingering, or pretend a wet wash cloth is an ice cream cone and lick it.
  • Blackberries can be used as edible medicine cups. The pill fits quite well in that little hole, and if your child is a fruit eater it makes it easier.

Other resources on the Web

“Children’s Pedcast” can be heard on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, YouTube and Vimeo.