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A pediatrician's tricks to get kids to take medicine

When your child gets sick, making them feel better is every parent’s first priority.

Many times, children require some sort of over-the-counter or prescription medication to help resolve their symptoms. Getting children to take the medication can sometimes be tricky.

Here are some tips I recommend to parents:

Babies

I recommend using a syringe as most times the medication they are prescribed is liquid based. If you can place the syringe in inside their cheek or into the side pocket of their mouth, it’s easier to administer the medicine. You can gently hold their mouth closed or gently stroke underneath the chin to get them to swallow the medicine. It’s important not to be forceful with the syringe so you don’t trigger chocking or the gag reflex.

Older infants

You might wrap the infant snugly in a blanket or have another person hold them in a hugging position while giving the medicine.

Toddlers

Toddlers become more aware of personal space and what they will allow to happen to their body, so it becomes important to talk to the child about the medicine and giving them some choices. For example: “Do you want to take the medicine before or after dinner?” “Do you want to try to give yourself the medicine?” By this age, children have gotten used to feeding themselves and when we start taking away their autonomy, it can be a source of frustration for the child, not the actual medicine itself.

Try using disguisers. Coat the spoon with chocolate sauce and then add the medicine. Chasers also help. I suggest following with Sprite when a child has to take liquid medicine because it can cleanse the taste of the medicine. It’s important to note that there are certain types of drugs that shouldn’t be consumed with milk products because the calcium can bind up the medicine. It’s always good to review medications with the pharmacist when picking them up.

Other ideas

If you’re struggling with a child who has difficulty taking medications, talk to your pharmacist about it. They might be able to offer special flavorings which can help mask the taste of the medicine. They can also help with recommendations on how to dose it or can encourage your doctor to prescribe something that has the same effect but can be taken in less frequent doses.

Other suggestions:

  • Some parents try hiding medicine in food. This is fine, but it’s important to remember that the whole dose of the medicine needs to be ingested, so consider that when preparing the food item. You have to be certain that the child will consume all of the food.
  • For older child, try using a reward system. If they start to associate a pleasurable event with the medication, they’re going to be more likely to take it.
  • Teaching children early in life how to swallow pills will be a helpful skill.  I recommend starting with candy, but having a discussion that medicine should not be taken like candy and medicine should be locked up and shouldn’t be taken without adult supervision.
  • A trick one of my patients has suggested is to make small Jell-O cubes and put a pill in the cube. The slipperiness of the Jell-O made swallowing the pill much easier.If you are trying to get a child to swallow a pill, try having them put the pill as far back on the tongue as possible and then have them drink from a water bottle with a nozzle. The spray of water will help push the pill to the back of the throat where it can be easily swallowed.
  • If you are trying to get a child to swallow a pill, try having them put the pill as far back on the tongue as possible and then have them drink from a water bottle with a nozzle. The spray of water will help push the pill to the back of the throat where it can be easily swallowed.

About Amy Seery MD

Amy Seery, MD, is a pediatrician with Via Christi Clinic and a faculty member of the Via Christi Family Medicine Residency program.