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How to Get Your Kids to Take Their Meds

Posted 10/13/2015 by UHBlog

Do your kids fight you when it’s time to take their medicine? We can help.

When your kids hear the word “medicine,” is that a battle cry in your house? There are ways to get your child to take her medicine without the constant power struggle, says pediatrician Kristin Horansky, MD.

“The first thing I tell parents: Don’t make taking the medicine an option, but you can present choices for the toddler or school-aged child,” she says. “Ask them, ‘Do you want to take the medicine from a spoon or a syringe? Do you want your medicine in pudding or yogurt? Which medicine do you want to take first?’ Make your child feel like they have some control.”

While she understands the reasons why kids refuse medicine – such as not liking the form (pill or liquid), taste or being reminded of their illness – there are general rules of thumb to use to get resistant children to take medication. These include:

  • Make a game of it – “Pretend you’re tasting the medicine, too,” she says, “Or let your little one pretend to give the medicine to a stuffed animal or baby doll.”
  • Disguise the taste – Ask your pediatrician or doctor first about adding medication to certain foods or adding flavoring to the medicine.
    “Chocolate syrup can hide almost any flavor,” she says. “Many medications can be crushed or added to applesauce or yogurt, too.”
  • Numb the tongue – This method works well with an older child who doesn’t like the medicine’s taste.
    “Have them suck on an ice cube, which makes them less able to taste the medicine,” Dr. Horansky says.
  • Try a new form of medicine – Ask your pediatrician for other options if the battle to take the medication continues.
  • Use a reward system – This strategy works especially well with early school-age kids, Dr. Horansky says. One idea is to use a sticker chart and once they fill the chart, they earn a small prize.
  • Be positive – “If parents dread giving medicine to the children, kids will learn to dread taking it, too,” she says. Another option is to involve someone else to give the medicine instead of you.

Older children – think tweens and teens – may require different strategies so they feel in control. According to Dr. Horansky, kids in these age groups need to understand why they’re taking medicine. Otherwise, they may feel peer pressure since their friends aren’t taking medicine or embarrassed about visiting the nurse’s office each day to receive medicine.

“With older children, it’s important to explain why they need to take the medicine,” she says. “It can help to talk about the medicine with your pediatrician in front of your child. Ask your child if she understands why she has to take the medication, and so she can ask any questions. You can even practice giving the medication in the office using a medicine cup and water.”

If the issue for your teen is taking the medicine at school, Dr. Horansky suggests that you and your child's pediatrician work to adjust the dosing schedule so he can take medicine before or after school. And be sure set up reminders.

“Usually what I tell my teenage patients is to have an alarm or alert on your smartphone for medicine taking,” she says. “With teens, parents can help them take responsibility while still checking up on them periodically.”

Kristin Horansky, MD, is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Elyria Pediatric Care. You can request an appointment with Dr. Horansky or any other UH doctor online.

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