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Kids and Meds

Expert Pill-Swallowing Tips

Persuading your child to take medicine can sometimes be the hardest part of getting better. If only it was as easy as Mary Poppins sang: “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down – in the most delightful way.”

Many medicines for children come in a liquid form. Although this makes it easier for a child to swallow, the taste may be unappealing. Many pharmacies can flavor liquid meds to mask the taste. Discuss with your pharmacist the flavor that will work the best with your child’s prescribed medicine. Some medications can be mixed in a small amount of soft foods such as applesauce, yogurt, or pudding.Be aware, however, that sometimes food can alter the absorption of the medicine.When mixing with food or another fluid, always mix with a small amount so you know the child received the entire dose.Another administration technique is to squirt the liquid medicine into the side of the cheek. This way the bitter taste buds on the back of the tongue are avoided. Be careful not to squirt directly into the back of the mouth, which may cause gagging.Taste buds can also be numbed prior to taking a medication by sucking on an ice cube or popsicle. Chasing the liquid medication with a spoonful of chocolate syrup can also mask unpleasant tastes.Remember to shake liquid medications prior to dispensing and always use Appropriate medication dosage spoons or syringes. Using regular household spoons can result in your child receiving too much medicine.

Not all medicines are available in liquid form; some come only as tablets or capsules. In some cases, tablets can be crushed or a capsule opened and its contents sprinkled in food. Ask your Pharmacist for clarification there.

Enteric-coated or sustained released tablets need to be swallowed whole.Swallowing pills is a skill all kids should be taught, preferably before they need to take a medicine. To teach swallowing of pills, start with a variety of sizes of candies. Cake decorations and sprinkles are great for a starter session. Have the child put one on the center of their tongue, but not too far back, which might cause the child to gag. Then have the child drink water and hold the water in their mouth until they feel the sprinkle float and then swallow or gulp. Demonstrate this as a disappearing magic trick to your child first, to relieve any apprehension your child may have.Repeat this three to four times with the smallest candy to build confidence. Then take a break. The next time increase the size of the candy. Transition from mini M&Ms, Tic Tacs, Smarties, and finally to regular size M&Ms.

For some kids, drinking the liquid through a straw can make it easier.Sometimes using a thicker liquid such as milk or drinkable yogurt may push the pill down more easily. Placing the pill in a Jell-o cube is another creative alternative.

What’s important is that you try different strategies and come up with something that works for your child.

Jan Dalby, CPNP, is a nurse practitioner with Pediatric Associates of Richmond where she has counseled parents for over twenty years.
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