Mon Fam Medicine Child

"If the parent looks afraid or anxious about medicine, it’s harder. You have to be positive about it and be assertive."

Pediatrician Dr. Norm Cohen

Whether you’re dealing with a crying baby, a squirmy toddler or a pouty grade-schooler with their arms crossed, it isn’t always easy to get kids to take medicine. But it doesn’t have to be a battle of wills. Use these tips to ease the pain of the process.

Control group

The key to avoiding an argument is to make the issue non-negotiable, says Dr. Norm Cohen, a pediatrician at Children’s Community Pediatrics at South Hills Pediatrics in Pittsburgh. “You want to be positive and matter-of-fact, and give them some amount of control, but don’t ask permission,” he says.

Let kids decide:

  • What flavor they want their medication to be
  • When they take it—if that’s flexible
  • Whether they take it from a syringe or a cup
  • Which arm or leg gets an injection

Flavor fix

Taste is often a kid’s biggest complaint about medicine. Pediatric nurse Jacqueline A. Bartlett, chair of the Clinical Practice and Research Committee of the Society of Pediatric Nurses in Kansas City, Mo., offers some tips:

  • Chill it in the refrigerator to improve the taste.
  • Depending on the medication, you could mix it with a small amount of liquid or a soft food like yogurt or applesauce.
  • Pharmacists can also mix many medications with flavoring.
  • Place the medicine inside your kid’s cheek or in the back of his mouth to minimize contact with taste buds, Cohen adds.
  • You can also coat the spoon with chocolate or cherry syrup.

That being said, it’s important to differentiate between medicine and candy. Don’t tell your kids that medicine is just like candy. “It sets them up for accidental ingestion, and it’s not honest,” Cohen says.

A few tricks

  • For very resistant young children, try wrapping them in a blanket and holding them down to squirt medicine into the back of their mouth, Cohen says.
  • For older children who have to learn to take pills, have them practice with Tic Tacs, Cohen says. The mints are ideal for helping kids gain confidence because they are small, slippery and non-threatening.
  • During an injection, Cohen says your child can sit on your lap to help him be comfortable and stay calm.

Dosage watch

Be careful about giving kids, especially young kids, over-the-counter medication, and work closely with your pediatrician to figure out dosage. Over-the-counter medications should be avoided in kids younger than 4.

Parents often make the mistake of doubling up on medications, not knowing the components of what they’re giving, Bartlett says. For example, they might give cough syrup and Tylenol, not realizing the cough syrup already has Tylenol in it. Avoid doing that.

If taking an antibiotic, make sure to complete the doses, even if the child is feeling better.

Remember never to give your child an adult medication, even in smaller doses, Bartlett says. Some adult medicines contain ingredients that aren’t safe for children.

When in doubt about a medication, ask a pharmacist or pediatrician.

Check yourself

Your attitude about medication and vaccines is key, Cohen says. It’s important to be honest with your kids and let them know what to expect, especially when it comes to vaccinations, he says.

“Kids do pick up on parents,” Cohen says. “If the parent looks afraid or anxious about medicine, it’s harder. You have to be positive about it and be assertive.”