Whether it’s the unappealing smells, flavors or textures, medications—in liquid or tablet forms—are just not fun to take. But they are a necessity when it comes to maintaining and preserving your child’s immunity and well-being.
In preparation for cold and flu season, Dr. Christina Johns, a pediatrician and pediatric emergency physician at PM Pediatrics in Washington, D.C., shares some tips and tricks to help lessen the overall fear and anxiety your child may have about taking different medications.
Explain the ‘why’ of medicine
Encouraging kids to sip or swallow their medicine can be a stressful ordeal. Before your child starts taking something new, have a chat about what medicine is and why it’s important to take.
Johns recommends that parents keep the conversation short and to the point. Don’t delve into the mechanics and complications of the drug. Instead, make it clear to your child that medicine is there to “make them feel better”—it’s as simple as that.
“Explaining the reason why you’re asking them to take the medicine can be helpful in gaining their trust and understanding,” Johns says.
During the conversation, Johns emphasizes that parents stress the value of health, wellness and taking care of one’s own body. Medicine should “become one element as part of a greater picture” rather than a central focus, she adds.
It’s important to make it clear to your child that medicine itself won’t keep them healthy and safe. In times of sickness, medicine isn’t the only magical cure. Instead, medicine should be conveyed and treated like a supplemental health tool that only works best when other healthy habits are being followed, Johns says.
“It becomes something that is just part of a continuum of staying healthy as opposed to something that kids have to focus on, whether it’s something scary or something that’s hard to do,” Johns says.
Make it more appealing
Applesauce, yogurt, ice cream and chocolate syrup are some of Johns’ favorite foods to pair with liquid medicine. These foods are easy to consume and can be safely mixed with most liquid medications, she says.
Tablets and pills, which are a bit tricky for kids to swallow, go down easier when taken with small treats that are sweet and hard. To help build their confidence, Johns recommends letting kids swallow their tablets with a small handful of sprinkles—the type that are frequently put on top of ice cream, cakes and cookies. Once comfortable with that, kids can move on to swallowing tablets with small hard candies like mini M&Ms. Finally, they can try taking their pills with nothing but a glass of water.
When swallowing tablets with water, Johns says it is easier for kids to first place the tablet at the back of their tongue. Then the kids can take a sip of water and swallow both the pill and the water together at the same time.
This method of transitioning from liquid to pill medication is really empowering for kids, Johns says. Although Johns says that most medications are safe to take with foods, she recommends that parents still talk to their child’s pediatrician before mixing any medications with food. Specific vitamins and other specialized categories of medicines may not be 100 % safe to consume with food. Iron, for example, cannot be mixed in with acidic foods such as orange juice.
Experiment with alternatives
“There are some children who have such a hard time taking oral medicine that they actually end up getting an injectable or a shot,” says Johns.
A surprising trick that Johns suggests is the squeeze-and-blow method. This unconventional method encourages kids to swallow a tablet placed into their mouth by lightly squeezing their cheeks and blowing a slight breeze directly onto their face. However, Jones emphasizes that such unconventional tricks and tips should not be the first method used by parents and that they should talk to their pediatrician before trying them.
At the end of the day, Jones says that there’s no magic bullet to helping kids take their medicine. Like most things in life, it just takes time and patience.