June 13, 2024

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Daily Dose – Soothing the Struggle: 6 Tips to Help Kids Take Their Medicine

4 min read

Getting your child to take their medicine can be a challenging task. The bitter taste, unfamiliar textures and the general discomfort associated with being unwell can make this seemingly simple task a real struggle. On top of that, you are likely feeling stressed and overwhelmed trying to comfort and care for your sick child. To make giving medicine a smoother process, Dr. Chibuzor Ihe with Atrium Health Levine Children’s University Pediatrics offers expert guidance that’s easy to implement with your child.

Keep it Positive

Children, including very young children, can pick up emotional cues from parents and caregivers. Caring for a sick child can be emotionally draining for the caregiver. And if you’re feeling frustrated while trying to administer medication, odds are your child is feeling it, too. Take a deep breath and try your best to approach the situation as positively as possible. This will also help lay the groundwork for smooth experiences in the future.

“While it can be difficult to give children of any age medication from time to time, toddlers tend to be the most difficult, since reasoning and rewarding doesn’t always work,” Ihe says. “But no matter your child’s age, remember to stay calm and approach the situation with a plan. The key is to have a good technique and to make the experience as positive as possible.”

Create a Routine

Establish a consistent time for your child to take their medicine each day. Whether it’s after a meal, before bedtime or during a specific activity, having a set schedule can help children anticipate and accept the medicine routine. (Just make sure the routine aligns with the directions prescribed by your child’s provider.)

Use a Little Magic

Sometimes just adding a little quirkiness can flip a switch in a child’s imagination and make the experience more lighthearted and engaging. Explore some creative ways to administer medicine. Like pretending that they are a magician and their trick is to make the medicine disappear. 

You can also present the medicine cup with a silly straw, transforming the act of taking medicine into a game. Or try distraction techniques to shift their focus away from the medicine. Engage your child in a favorite book, show or game just before giving them the medication. By capturing their attention with an enjoyable activity, you can minimize their focus on the medicine itself, making the process less intimidating and more seamless.

Enlist Them in the Process

Empower your child by involving them in the task. If the medication comes in different flavors, ask your child to choose which one they’d like. Including them in the decision-making process can go a long way in helping them feel more comfortable in a situation in which they may feel powerless. 

Most medication can be mixed with a small amount of food. So if taking the medicine directly is a challenge, your child can choose to add it to a spoonful of their favorite treat, such as pudding, ice cream, applesauce or yogurt. If you do choose to use this method, keep in mind that you should only use a minimal amount of food (a teaspoon or less) so you can be sure your child takes all of the medication. And be sure to check with your child’s doctor before mixing medication into food.

Taking medicine can be a scary experience for some kids. Encourage your child to ask questions and express any concerns they may have along the way. Involving your child in the process not only gives them a sense of control but also makes them active participants in their own healing process.

Use Positive Reinforcement 

Create a reward system that positively reinforces the act of taking medicine. Consider using a sticker chart where each successful dose leads to a sticker, eventually accumulating to a small treat, surprise or extra playtime. This system not only motivates children to participate willingly but also helps them visualize their progress. (“You’ve had six out of eight doses. That means we’re almost done!”) It also helps them associate the medicine routine with positive outcomes.

“Remember, the way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount. Keep it motivational and engaging for your child,” Ihe says.

Be Clear About Medication 

Even with these tips, your child may still be pushing you to the limits when it comes to taking their medicine. But while it may be tempting to tell them it’s “candy” to get them to take it, this can seriously confuse kids and lead to an overdose in the future. It’s important for them to understand what they are taking and why they are taking it.

“Never let your child think medicine is candy,” Ihe says. “If they are old enough to understand, explain to them that medicine is important to helping them feel better, and can only be taken with a parent or caregiver.”

If you are still unable to get your child to take their medication, Ihe says to call their doctor to discuss next steps. 

“Never forgo a necessary medication administration – especially a dose of an antibiotic course – because your child is fighting you,” Ihe says. “We will help however we can.”

Your child’s well-being is our top priority. Find an Atrium Health Levine Children’s pediatrician near you.


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