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Short of a spoonful of sugar, how can you get your child to take medicine? Try these tips from our site parents.
Keep in mind that some medicines should not be taken with certain foods, or with any food at all. Be sure to ask your child's doctor or your pharmacist before combining – or following up – your preschooler's medication with a favorite treat.
Let your child take charge
We have two oral syringes – one for me and one for my son. First he gives me a pretend dose and then he lets me give him the real stuff.
To get the medicine down, I usually put it in a squeeze-bulb type of measuring device with some orange pop and let my son squeeze it into his mouth himself while he's in the bathtub. Then when he's done he can play with the "toy" that makes bubbles. He finds this great fun, and I don't have the fuss of fighting to get the medicine down. (I just make sure to clean the syringe well afterward!)
When my son's really sick, I tell him repeatedly that the medicine is going to make him feel better and make the hurt go away. I give him choices if he has two medicines to take: I ask him which one he wants first, the pink or the red? Or I ask him if he wants to take it in the dropper or in a medicine cup. That way he feels like he's making some decisions and diverts him from saying "No!" I never say "Are you ready for your medicine?" Instead, I say something like, "It's time for you medicine. Show Mommy how well you take it." Approaching it in a positive way makes it easier for him to want to take it.
Make it fun
I buy the dye-free medicine when available, then I get out food coloring and let him pick what color he wants. He's so excited about the idea that his tongue will be blue, green, etc. that he wants to take it.
Add some fanfare
I finally found a way to get our son to take his medicine. I get all excited about the bottle of medicine, and then I say to my husband or our older sons, "Look! Cody's going to take his medicine! Oh, my goodness! What a big boy! Look at him, he's taking his medicine!" Then we all clap. I found that lots of praise goes a long way with this child. He wouldn't take medicine before.
— Lisa L.
My husband and I pass the medicine spoon around and pretend to take a sip ourselves. It makes our child want what we are having!
— L. B.
We tell our daughter to "think pink" (or red or whatever color the medicine is), and then she takes it with no problems. Whenever possible, we give it to her with a meal or snack, and she's been known to refuse the food until she gets the medicine!
— Happy Mom
A thing that has worked for me is that I praise her every time she needs to take her medicine. I started with the vitamins she took when she was 6 months old or younger. I always tell her that she is the medicine champion, and sometimes I even say that to other people, like my parents or my sister, people that are important to her. She is very proud of being the medicine champion. Now that she's 3, she'll even take the spoon out of my hands to take the medicine on her own because "she's grown-up now."
If our son takes all his medicine, he can go outside, get a sticker for his sticker book, or go to Grandma's house for an hour. He always goes to Grandma's house.
I give my 3-year-old her medicine in an espresso cup (it looks like a tea cup) and I tell her we're having a tea party, with tea and cookies. I drink out of a cup at the same time, filled with something in it that's similar in color to her medicine. (When she had pink amoxicillin, I made strawberry milk for myself.) Works for her because she's all about the princesses right now.
Try another form
If your child won't take a particular medicine, ask his doctor or the pharmacist for an alternative preparation, such as a suppository or a more or less concentrated dose.
We discovered the beauty of "thin strips" (medication in the form of paper-thin strips that dissolve on the tongue). No more battles or puddles of liquid medicine on the floor.
Make it more palatable
I tried the flavors that pharmacists can add to liquid medicine, and they worked great with my youngest daughter. I get everything in her favorite flavor, watermelon, and it all goes down just the way it's supposed to.
I have my child hold his nose (or I hold it for him). It's just silly enough to take the "ick" factor out and keeps him from tasting the medicine.
I've finally found the only way for my 2-year-old to take a liquid antibiotic, but it only works for the refrigerated chalky kinds. I tried hiding it in every product known to man, and he could always tell and refused to eat or drink for a week for fear I was poisoning him. Finally, I discovered vegetable juice smoothies in the juice aisle. They're very strong (yet delicious) and naturally thick like the medicine, so he has no idea it's in there.
I decided to use good old-fashioned bribery. My daughter has an insatiable sweet tooth, so I went to my cupboard and grabbed seven chocolate chips. I gave her one chocolate chip, and then said, "If you take this medicine, you can have another candy!" She seemed to understand, so I put the syringe in her mouth, right at the front like a straw, and injected one cc. Then very quickly, before she was able to spit it out, I said, "Here's your candy!" and held it in front of her face. She automatically swallowed the medicine to get the candy, and I popped it right in her mouth. While she ate the candy, I reinforced what a good girl she was for not spitting the medicine out. Then I showed her the next chocolate chip and repeated the process until she had taken the whole teaspoon. Afterward she was allowed to have two chocolate chips instead of just one, and I laid on the praise about what a big girl she was for taking the medicine! This worked for us when she was only 19 months old. It took the tears and struggle out of the whole ordeal.
My son wouldn't take his medicine because it was very chalky and yucky tasting (even to me), so I mixed it with a teaspoon of yogurt. I called the pharmacist first, and he said it was okay to do with that specific prescription. Goes down easy now!
I give my daughter an ice cube to suck on for a minute. This seems to numb her taste buds a bit. If it's really bad-tasting medicine, she can suck on the ice cube between sips. It works like a charm. If you're worried about your little one choking, try a juice pop or an ice cube in a facecloth instead.
Do what works
As a pediatrician, I've found that different meds require different techniques. Having the pharmacist add flavors works well for some meds (ask your pharmacist). Alternative forms (like dissolving tabs) are available for some meds. Chocolate syrup (the kind meant to mix with milk, but used without the milk) covers up the taste of almost anything. Pharmacies and baby stores also sell a lot of products to help. Most important, make sure your child takes the medicine and at the right time! It's terrible to have to stick a kid with a needle or even hospitalize him because he didn't get the meds he could have taken by mouth at home.