Just a spoonful of sugar…

8 ways to get kids to take their medicine

It’s hard to see our kids suffering when they are unwell, but sometimes it can be super hard to get them to take the medicine that we know will help them to get better. This could be due to any number of reasons – they don’t like the taste, the texture, the way it makes them feel, trying new things, or maybe they are just trying to exert some control anywhere that they can. Sometimes a bit of creative thinking is required!

NOTE: You should always check with your prescribing practitioner/doctor/pharmacist before modifying the delivery method of any medicines.

1. Just a spoonful of sugar

If your child has been prescribed a capsule or a tablet, open it up or crush it finely between two spoons and mix the powder with something sweet – try yoghurt, honey or jam. The trick is to only use a little bit of the sweet stuff so that the child can consume the full dose within 3 mouthfuls. My kids prefer yoghurt and in this case, I take them to the shop and let them choose whichever yoghurt they want. Of course, they choose the sweetest, junkiest yoghurt they can find, with their favourite character printed on the label. If it means they’ll take their medicine, I’m okay with that!

2. Give the child ownership

Get your child to decorate their medicine bottle with stickers, or whack a plain white label on the box/bottle and let them go crazy with marker pens. Personalising their medicine can help them take ownership and decrease their resistance to their daily dose. Take care that you write down any prescribing information first before covering it up with stickers.

3. Your child is tougher than you think

Often we assume our kids are going to spit out their medicine or refuse to take it, before we even give them a chance. We set them up to fail with negative talk, telling them “it will be yucky but you HAVE to take it”. Approach it from a positive standpoint and you may be surprised at your child’s reaction. For older children, empower them with information – tell the child why they are taking it and how long they need to take it for. My 6 year old is fine taking very bitter herbs that some adults would find challenging, as long as I give her all the information first. (On the flip side, I could give my 3 year old all the information in the world and if he doesn’t want to take it, there’s no way I’m getting him to take it… see point 8!)

4. Consider texture

Texture is often very important to kids. Lumpy, mushy, slimy, sticky, thick, gluggy – any of these and a zillion more could be problematic to a child. Some medicines have to be taken as is, but if not, think about how you could modify the texture to make it more palatable. For example, tablets could be crushed, capsules opened, powders mixed more thoroughly in liquid. In our house, we take crushed garlic in honey when we feel a cold coming on – the kids absolutely detest the texture but when I gently heat the honey with garlic and then strain out the solids, it’s much easier to get their compliance.

5. Squirters

From as young as eighteen months, kids love to take charge of their own dispensing. If they’ve been prescribed a liquid medicine, offer it to them in a medicine dropper and help them squirt it in their mouths – make sure they take the full dose. Basic droppers and oral syringes are available at chemists, or try a fun one if you need a bit more help to get it over the line. As a bonus, if you administer the medicine this way, you can divert it to the back of the child’s mouth to bypass the taste buds.

6. Consider temperature

Sucking on ice before taking medicine numbs the taste buds and can be helpful if it doesn’t taste great. When administering ear drops or eye drops, it can be more soothing to the child if these are gently warmed – cup the bottle of drops in your hands for a minute or so first.

7. Give it to Teddy first

A bit of play acting may be required to get some children on board with taking medicine. Enlisting a favourite toy can be helpful. Either you, or the child, can pretend to give Teddy a dose. Make a ritual out of it – explain to Teddy that the medicine will help him feel better, give him a big hug afterwards and comment on how well he did taking the medicine. Then repeat with your child.

8. Bribery!

Some kids will only respond to bribery! Choose something appropriate – if a child has to take a medicine at breakfast time, or multiple times a day, offering a chocolate bar after each dose is generally not a great idea! You could use star charts, with the lure of a special toy at the end of the course of medicine, or you could offer something more immediate – a small amount of a ‘treat’ food, five minutes screentime, an extra story at bedtime, a day off from chores, a token for a special family outing – whatever works best in your house.

Thinking outside the box is sometimes required to get kids to take their medicine. Try to stay relaxed and calm, and if one trick doesn’t work, try another one. Please remember to check with your prescribing practitioner/doctor/pharmacist before modifying the delivery method of any medicines.


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