Tips For Giving Young Children Medication

Wish your child would be more cooperative with their liquid medication? Say no more! Here are some tips to avoid all those spits!

Avoid the Battle – Offer Choices!

As with most things with toddlers and young children, refusing to take medication is often more about them asserting their independence than the task or issue itself. So it can be really helpful to offer the “illusion of choice.” Give your child choices about how to take the medication, rather than whether to take it.

For example:

• HOW they take it (from a syringe? or a cup?)

• WHEN they take it (before, or after, they get dressed?)

• WHERE they take it (at the kitchen table? in their room? sitting on the couch while watching tv?)

They may even want to take it by themselves! Some children, for example, like to hold the syringe while you push the plunger.

Also, just because you measure it in a syringe or cup doesn’t mean they have to take it that way. You can pour the liquid into a “special cup,” or maybe their favorite superhero cup. Make it fun!

Be Mindful of Choking

Some children may become averse to taking medication because they previously gagged or choked when too much was offered. Be aware that young children have smaller mouths and are still learning how to handle different textures. It may be helpful to offer smaller amounts at a time rather than all in one fell swoop.

When using a syringe, squirt it into the cheek pocket rather than directly at the back of the throat. However, for an experienced medication taker, check that they don’t “squirrel” it in their cheek for spitting out later!

Finally — always have them in an upright or seated position to help prevent choking.

Explain Why

For a child old enough to understand (~4 years old), discuss how the medication will help them. Will it help their ear infection? Their strep throat? Will they be able to get back to playing sooner? You’d be surprised just how motivating that may be for a young child to be able to take the “yucky” medicine.  

Praise and Reward

Children respond REALLY well to positive feedback. It’s totally ok to make a big deal about how proud you are when they successfully take their medicine. Have a mini party! Make a sticker chart with a prize at the end! Do the happy dance!

“It’s All About That Taste, ‘Bout That Taste”

For some children, it really is all about the taste and texture. And, to be fair, many antibiotics are quite bitter and chalky tasting (*cough, cough* Augmentin *cough, cough*).

Ask your pharmacist if flavors are available — some medicines can be offered in flavors like cherry, grape or bubblegum. Mixing medication with sweet foods at home is also an option. Chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, pudding, applesauce, yogurt, or a small amount of ice cream mix well.

A food or drink “chaser,” either after all the medicine or in between small amounts, is another great option. 

Still Refusing?

Some children just refuse to take a liquid. Some medications are available in chewable, dissolvable tab, or sprinkles. Ask your pharmacist,  or call our office to see if those are an option for your child’s medication.

If they’re old enough, they may be ready to graduate to pills instead! See Dr. Springer’s excellent Note on Teaching Kids to Swallow Pills for more details. 

Dr. Lisa Stefano has been a Kids Plus Provider since 2019.