How to Get Your Child to Take Their Medicine

By Tracy Wright
Blue and white pills scattered on pink background

If you’ve got kids in school this fall, then your child has likely been hit by the bevy of germs living in schools and daycare centers. Fortunately, we have many medicines that can help our children heal or at least cope with these illnesses. But whether it’s a bad tasting liquid or a large capsule, getting our kids to take medicine isn’t always the easiest feat.

For children with chronic illnesses who may need frequent doses of medication, it can be a daily struggle for parents. There are several hurdles parents may confront when giving medication to their children: bad taste, swallowing pills
and a general resistance to taking medicine, especially if it’s frequently. But experts agree that some variety of tactics can help with these challenges.

Everyday Health recommends some ways to tackle the mental side of medication resistance, including keeping a consistent time to dispense medication and keeping a positive attitude. Children can notice emotional cues from their parents, so if you are frustrated with the process, your child may mimic that behavior. Be sure to also try reasoning with your child and explain why it’s important for them to take the medicine.

For the physical taste of medicine, there are several things that can be done to encourage children to swallow medication by collaborating with your doctor or pharmacist, said Lindsey Childs- Kean, clinical associate professor at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy.

“First, a number of liquid medications can be flavored at the pharmacy, so ask the pharmacist about flavoring,” Childs- Kean said. “If there are flavoring options and the child is old enough, you could even have them choose the flavor.”

“Next, some tablets can be crushed, or capsules opened and mixed with food, such as applesauce or ice cream,” she continued. “Be sure to check with the pharmacist or pediatrician to make sure the medication in

question can be crushed or opened first, though. You can also try using chocolate syrup, pixie stick dust, or popsicles to coat or numb the tongue before giving the medication.”

For infants and very young children, “a common approach is to use a syringe and deposit drops of the medicine between the baby’s cheek and tongue, allowing each droplet to be swallowed until the full dose gets down,” according to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

CHLA also recommends another method of dosing medicine little by little. For example, opt for 5 MLs at a time for a 20 ML dose, and break up the time with pleasurable activities like playing or coloring. You can chase each dose with a swig of water or Pedialyte.

Children can begin swallowing pills as early as 4 years old, said Kimberly Giuliano, MD, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Ohio. Capsules can be dipped in cold water to make them slippery, broken up into smaller pieces or put into Jell-O to make it softer.

“When learning to swallow pills, a child can use small candies, such as mini M&Ms or Tic Tacs to practice,” Childs-Kean said. “Some children swallow tablets or capsules more easily when they’re given with a thicker liquid than water, think juice or milk. You want to check with the pharmacist to make sure that would be OK for the particular medication.”

When in doubt, work with your pediatrician for different methods to try so taking medicine is as “pain-free” as possible!

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