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Helping Kids Take Their Medicine

Maybe Mary Poppins did have a point: A spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down. Sometimes a little assistance is necessary to get a child to take medicine that will help them feel better. There are a number of reasons why children find taking medicine difficult. Probably the biggest factor is taste. Everyone has had personal experiences of plugging their nose, squeezing their eyes shut and shuddering while swallowing some horrible concoction. Pharmaceutical companies are well aware of the need to make their products as pleasing to the consumer’s taste buds as possible, but sometimes their efforts just aren’t quite enough.

What can parents and caregivers do?

There are a number of tips to help with giving children medication that tastes bad. Always have something, even if it is just water, on hand for your child to drink or swallow after taking medication. This will help rinse the taste out of his or her mouth. Have your child suck on a popsicle or something cold before taking the medication. This will help to ‘numb’ the taste buds.

Some medications can be mixed in with food or drinks to mask the taste. For instance, crushed tablets can be sprinkled on applesauce or yogurt, or liquid medications can be mixed in concentrated Kool-Aid, but be cautious because some medications should not be crushed (check with your pharmacist).

Some medications should be given on an empty stomach (check with your pharmacist). Some medications may affect the taste of the food or beverage and your child may refuse to take that particular food or beverage in the future. If your child does not eat all of the food or drink all of the beverage, then some of the dose is lost.

Medication in a liquid form comes into contact with taste buds much more quickly than medications in either capsules or tablets. So if your child is old enough and can swallow capsules or tablets, he or she may prefer to try that.

Tablets that have a strong smell or bad taste can be put into empty capsules. The coat of the capsule keeps the smell and loose powder inside.

Learning to swallow capsules or tablets can be a challenge for children, as well as some adults. Some training strategies to help with this include: Have your child drink thick milkshakes with small pieces of strawberries or other fruit in them so that they get used to swallowing lumps of food first. Give your child something to drink first to prevent the capsule or tablet from sticking in a dry throat. Place the capsule or tablet in the centre of the tongue toward the back of the mouth and have the child drink through a straw. Sucking the beverage up through a straw provides a little extra momentum to wash the capsule or tablet down the throat. The flexible straws are nice because the child can tip his or her head back a little to help the capsule or tablet go down.

There are also a few devices available to make medication administration easier. If your child’s dose is a half or a quarter tablet, rather than using a sharp knife and chasing the pieces all over the kitchen, obtain a pill splitter from your pharmacy. These handy devices help to cut the tablet evenly, prevent accidental injuries and leave the pieces in the cutting chamber for easy retrieval. Remember using two spoons or putting a tablet between waxed paper to crush a tablet? Pill crushers are available to help with crushing tablets into powder to be mixed in a beverage or sprinkled on food.

When giving children medication, it is important to measure the amount of medication accurately.

Going back to Mary Poppins, whether it was a teaspoonful, a tablespoonful or soup ladle full of sugar, is less important than making sure the dose of the medicine is correct. Kitchen spoons are notorious for being inaccurate. When measuring out a teaspoonful (5 ml), it is a good idea to use an oral syringe or a properly labeled measuring spoon from a pharmacy. Using a bottle cap with the syringe may prevent the mess associated with sticking an oral syringe into a medicine bottle or having to pour some of the medication into another container because the syringe doesn’t reach. There are a number of bottle caps available to fit a variety of different bottle sizes and they are reclosable to prevent leakage.

A few general, but important reminders:

  • Make sure you understand the instructions on the prescriptions.

  • Let the doctor and pharmacist know of any drug or food allergies that your child may have.

  • Never refer to medication as ‘candy’ to encourage children to take it. The risk is too great that children may misunderstand and take an overdose or poison themselves.

  • Keep medications out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.

  • The bathroom is not a good place to store medication. The humidity and heat may affect some medications.

Reprinted from Calgary’s Child Magazine Sept/Oct 2006. 

Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2017 Calgary’s Child