700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Get a Black Belt in Giving Medicine

Feb 25, 2015

So you waited to see the doctor, then waited in line for the pharmacist to give you your medicine, and now it’s time to give it to your kids. Maybe you got the “yummy pink medicine,” but not all medicines are yummy or pink. If you have never had the experience of coaxing a wily 3-year-old to take medicine, consider yourself lucky. I have twins, so when one gets sick, often the other gets sick. That means double trouble.

If only a spoonful of sugar would help the medicine go down. Well, Mary Poppins has obviously never met my kids. They are medicine ninjas, rejecting the slightest thing, waving their little ninja hands in the air. Every kid with taste buds will at some point encounter something they don’t like, and it’s often medicine.

Here are some strategies to make giving medicine to your little ninja easier:

Flavor It: Add a strong, concentrated flavoring to the medicine. Chocolate syrup works well because it masks the taste of many medicines. Some pharmacies can even add flavors to medicines, using FDA-approved dye-free, sugar-free, hypoallergenic flavors.

There is a cost, but it is often minimal and well worth it. Sometimes, rather than mixing something directly with the medicine, I have a chocolate milk chaser waiting. It’s the bitter aftertaste of medicine that kids hate, and this disguises the aftertaste. Staring at a tall glass of chocolate milk is a strong motivator for kids.

Change It Up: When your child has a high fever and is refusing medicine, nothing beats a suppository. They are surprisingly easy to give. Kids often fight much less with suppositories than oral medicines. Parents in other countries use suppositories more often than their American counterparts. Also, some medicines come in more concentrated forms, so you can give less. Chewable tabs often taste great, and capsules sometimes can be opened and mixed with food. These are all options you may want to ask your pharmacist or doctor about.

Spoons Are the Enemy: Skip the spoon. They spill, they get knocked from your hand, and the dosages are not accurate. I could go on. Droppers and syringes work much better. Measure the exact dosage, then slide it along the inside of the cheek (not straight back) into the back of the mouth and slowly give the medicine. Going slowly allows your child to swallow in between small amounts so that as much of the dose as possible is swallowed. Try to keep the medicine off the front of the tongue. Sometimes blowing on your child’s face as you give medicine is a good distraction.

On the Rocks: Well, not really, but sometimes it helps to chill the medicine. This disguises the taste. (Be sure to ask your pharmacist if the medicine can be chilled.) If your child is old enough, have him suck on a popsicle prior to giving the medicine. It will numb their mouth, making the taste of the medicine less noticeable.

Fast Food Rule: Have you ever been upset and someone says to you, “It’s OK”? It doesn’t make you feel much better. It’s not OK. Toddlers are the same. They want to know that you get it. Acknowledge how they feel. It’s a powerful tool. Parenting guru, Dr. Harvey Karp, refers to this as the fast food rule. When your child is upset, take a lesson from the order-takers at a fast food restaurant. Repeat back your child’s “order” (what he wants) before you tell him what you need him to do (take the medicine). Toddlers in meltdown mode are incapable of hearing anything until we acknowledge how they feel. Repeat back what your child says several times, in sincere and simple language. “You don’t want your medicine, and you’re angry at mommy.” Then they know you are listening.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Emily Decker, MD
Primary Care Pediatrics

Dr. Emily is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Urgent Care and Primary Care Clinics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She has a strong interest in child advocacy, and serves as the medical director for CAP4Kids Columbus.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.