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Just a spoonful of sugar

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Denise Lenarz,MD Author: Denise Lenarz, MD

What’s the best way to get your child to take medicine with the least amount of fuss?

  1. Have a positive approach and the right attitude. Older kids will respond to reason and encouragement and younger children will take cues from parent emotions. If it seems as if the parent is frustrated, the child will resist more.
  2. Give kids some control. Explain to older children why they need to take their medicine. Prepare them in advance and make sure your child’s medication is flavored. When picking up your child’s medication from the pharmacist, ask if it can be flavored (if it isn’t already).
  3. Get help from your provider. Some medications taste better than others and are offered only 1-2 times per day. Ask for help if you are having trouble.
  4. Avoid the tongue.
    • Infants and toddlers: Use the syringe dropper to administer the medicine. Squirt a little at a time into the pocket of the cheek, not directly on the tongue. Give your child a gentle blow on the face. This will trigger a swallowing response before your child has a chance to spit it out.
    • Preschool and school age children: Use a dropper syringe to ensure dose accuracy and lessen the chance of losing some of the medicine due to spills. Offer your child something to drink immediately following the medicine. Make sure you check with your provider to make sure there aren’t any liquids that would counteract with the medication. Do not mix the medicine with the liquid because you can’t be sure your child gets a full dose then. Be gentle and talk your child through the process.
  5. Offer a reward system. Older kids respond to rewards, whether it is verbal praise, a sticker or a small gift. Taking medicine without a fuss can be worth it.
  6. Teach your child to swallow pills. A child as young as age 4 may be taught to swallow pills. Start by having them swallow very small pieces of candy in a larger amount of food such as Jell-O or pudding. You also can break up certain medications into smaller pieces — check with your provider first to see if this is possible.
  7. Be consistent. Involve your child in the whole process. Let your child pick out the cup for the liquid and help measure out the dose of medicine. Regaining some control will diminish some of the battle. Have a set time each day that your child will receive the medication. Give your child a five-minute warning.

Try not to engage in any physical struggles. Instead, talk with your child. Emphasize the importance of taking a particular medication. Explain how it will help her body get better. Be understanding but firm. Certainly empathy goes a long way but when your child needs to take a particular medication, it is non-negotiable. Explain it with specifics such as “this medicine will help you get better so you can go over to your friend’s house to play.”