Medicine - Helping children take oral medication
Tell the truth
Children expect honesty from parents, so be honest about what they can expect.
Find out what flexibility you have with the medicine
- Liquid medicines may taste better if they are kept cold. Check your label for refrigeration guidelines.
- Ask your pharmacist if flavoring can be added to the medicine.
- Ask if you can crush up the medicine and mix with small bits of yogurt, pudding or applesauce. If mixing the medicine with a small amount of applesauce or pudding, make sure your child eats the entire amount.
Build in other real choices that the child can control. This gives the child a sense of control with something they may dread.
- Within reason, let your child pick who gives the medicine, where and when to take the medicine, and what treats they can have afterwards.
- "Would you like to take your medicine from a cup or a squirter?" Or, offer a special spoon or cup.
- Allow your child to choose a favorite drink or a small bit of chocolate to wash away the medicine taste after taking the medicine.
- Role-play with a doll or stuffed animal.
Taking the medicine
- To swallow a pill, have your child sit up straight. Avoid tilting the head back, which can make swallowing more difficult.
- Have your child take a few sips of water to practice swallowing.
- Then, put the pill on your child's tongue and have your child take a sip and swallow with water.
- Swallowing pills may be learned through practice with small candies like “Nerds” and “Smarties”. Progressively have your child swallow the candies that match the size of the medicine, building confidence.
- Techniques to help young children swallow their medicine include squirting a small amount of the medicine in the side of their cheek, repeating until all the medicine is gone. Gently squeeze their cheeks to prevent them from dribbling or spitting the medicine out of their mouth.
- After the medicine is squirted into to an infant's mouth, use a pacifier to encourage swallowing.
- Use a sticker chart. This reminds children of how medicine fits into their daily routine.
- Use words to specifically praise the behavior. "You did a great job swallowing your medicine. Thanks for helping your body get the medicine it needs."
Take a break
When things begin to get frustrating for both the parent and child, let everyone take a brief break to regroup. Take a moment to give your child a hug, or get a drink of water to briefly break the cycle. Be careful to stick to just a 5-minute break.
Let another adult take over
For kids who are truly resistant, get support from another adult family member or friend, letting the child know that the medicine needs to be taken.
This is not specific to your child, but provides general information. For questions, contact your doctor or pharmacist.
Last reviewed 4/2016
This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.
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