Tricks of the Trade: Giving Medications

I have two boys, one who asks for medication whenever he thinks he might need it, the other who spits it back at us like we are giving him poison. As a health care provider for children, giving medication and helping parents give medication to their children is a big part of my job. Some children need medication only intermittently for fever or pain, others daily for chronic illnesses or infections. It is important that parents find the best way to give medication to each of their children for the times when it is important. Thankfully, medications come in a variety of forms, including pills, capsules, chewables, powder, granules, and liquids. Unfortunately, not all children’s liquids taste good (even after flavoring).

The most important step in giving medication to children is making sure you are giving the correct medication and dosage. Most children will be prescribed liquid, so your job is to measure the medication correctly and make sure your child swallows it. Infants and toddlers will usually take medication measured in a syringe (1 ml, 5 ml or 10 ml). However, they do make special nipples that hold medication, which some infants prefer. Older toddlers and children will drink medication from a measuring spoon or cup, they can also take chewable medication. Once your child is big enough to take a pill (5-7 years old for most children), you can start teaching them to swallow pills/capsules.

Tips for getting your child to take medication:

1) Give it slowly in their cheek

2) Offer a tasty bribe for after they take the medication or in between squirts – juice, popsicle, sucker

3) Get the pill form, crush it and put in apple sauce/pudding – this only works if it is not a long acting medication

4) Get the capsule form and open into apple sauce/pudding

5) Give a very small amount of medication in between screams/crying, most children will swallow it with their saliva

6) Get the rectal suppository form (acetaminophen) and place it gently into your child’s bottom

Giving medication to your child is not always easy, so if you are having trouble, ask for advice from your doctor or nurse. They may be able to prescribe a different form of the medication or offer other ideas for getting your child to take the medication.

Heather Joyce, MD

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