When your child is sick, you want to do whatever you can to make them feel better—like lots of cuddles, snuggles and cartoons. But when medicine is involved in helping them feel better, it can be a struggle.
“Issues taking medication is a common scenario we face in the pediatric office,” said Meghan Fels, DO, a pediatrician with Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, CO.
Whether it’s an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever or a prescribed antibiotic, sometimes it’s impossible to get the medicine to go down. Dr. Fels shared some stress-free ways to help you make it go down in the most delightful way (hopefully!).
Improve the flavor
As it can go with food, the smell, taste, consistency and sight of some medications can be a turnoff to children of all ages. “The good news is that most medications do have a good enough flavor or a flavor that is easily masked,” Dr. Fels said.
Whenever possible, look for medications that are flavored or tailored to your child’s palate. Many OTC medicines come in both liquid and chewable forms in a variety of fun flavors—from watermelon to berry-flavored.
For prescriptions, check with your child’s health care provider or pharmacy to see if they can help improve the taste. Many traditional pharmacies offer a service called FLAVORx. “But check with your child’s doctor or pharmacist, because not all medications can be flavored due to how they are constituted,” Dr. Fels said.
Trick their taste buds
Get creative! If your child isn’t having it, try mixing the dose of medicine with a strong, sweet flavor of your child’s choice (that is, if they’re old enough to verbalize). “My go-to is typically chocolate or strawberry syrup,” Dr. Fels said. “Typically, 5ml of sweetener mixed in is enough for a single dose.” Pancake syrup or ice cream are alternative options to try with the medication dose. If your child is under the age of 1, however, steer clear of honey due to a botulism risk.
This being said: Some medications can’t be given during meals or with particular foods, so remember to check with your pharmacist or child’s health care provider regarding any restrictions. And refrain from diluting medicine in a large cup of liquid. You want to make sure they take all the medicine, which can be difficult in a large quantity.
Focus on remaining calm
“It’s always better to focus on a good, calm technique for giving medicine,” Dr. Fels said. “Forcing a child to take medication can be a struggle, struggling can cause resistance as well as vomiting or choking.”
Children can pick up on what you’re putting down—especially if you’re frustrated or nervous. If you remain calm and positive, it’ll help your child stay calm as well. “For older children who will understand, explain why the medication will help their body and will help them feel better or to heal,” Dr. Fels said.
Try a different delivery
If you at first don’t succeed, try a different method.
- Difficulty swallowing pills? If your child has difficulty swallowing pills, check to see if there are other formulations for the medication. Sometimes medications come in a chewable form or in capsules that can be opened and more easily swallowed. You can also try drinking quickly through a straw or using thicker fluid—such as a smoothie—to help the pill go down. Call your child’s doctor if you aren’t successful.
- Difficulty swallowing liquid? Try a plastic medication syringe or dropper and slowly push the medicine into your child’s mouth. “I typically recommend a syringe or medication dropper, so you know you’re delivering the proper amount,” Dr. Fels said.
Reward and celebrate
After giving them their medicine, end with positive reinforcement. This can be as simple as a sticker and a hug. Let them know they are helping themselves feel better.
Helpful reminders about giving medicine
Whether OTC or prescribed by their health care provider, medicine can still be dangerous if not handled appropriately. Dr. Fels shared some important reminders for all parents and caregivers:
- Keep your child/baby upright when dispensing medication—never give to them while lying down. This will help prevent choking or vomiting up the medicine.
- Don’t squirt medicine to the back of the throat. Instead, aim for the back of the cheek and slowly dispense the medicine, so your child can easily swallow.
- Only give medication when needed.
- Always read the labels for appropriate dosing and if your child is old enough for the medication. That’s because some medications are not safe for babies/infants. If you have any questions, always check with your child’s health care provider for dosage, timing and appropriate medication.
- Cough suppressants are not recommended for those under age 6.
- Honey medications are not recommended for those under age 1.
- Infant drops (i.e., Motrin) are stronger (more concentrated) than the children's formulation so always read labels for proper dosage.
- Always remember to store medication out of reach and out of sight, stored up high and in a locked cabinet.
- Never refer to medicine as candy or as a treat. For children who will understand, explain to them why the medication will help their body, will help them feel better or to heal.
- Get rid of any old medications and prescriptions you aren’t using or that have expired, plus outdated products.
Call your child’s health care provider
Helping an uncooperative baby or child take medicine is never easy—especially if you are frustrated. If you’re both struggling to get the medicine to go down, don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s health care provider.
“There are always other options, such as different medication forms, we can try instead,” Dr. Fels said. “And, if they aren’t getting any better or their symptoms are worsening, always reach out to your child’s doctor or call 911 if your child is showing signs of any emergency.”