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Helping your toddler or preschooler take medicine by mouth

 

Many young children have difficulty taking medicine by mouth, and your child might too. Taking medicine can be especially difficult for toddlers and preschoolers. At this age, your child wants to feel more independent and in control than when they were younger. Being in the hospital and having appointments and procedures might make them feel like they have less control. But saying “no” to medicine gives them some control back. Here are some tips to make giving medicine by mouth easier for you and your child.

Preparing to give medicine

Let your child know when it is almost time to take medicine. For example, you might say, “When this song is over, it will be time to take your medicine.”

Your child might feel more secure when they know what to expect. It can help to create a routine for taking medicine. Consider giving your child their medicine at the same place and time, every time. For example, your child may feel less anxious when they know they take medicine after their bath every night, or after they brush their teeth in the morning.

You can have your child practice giving medicine to a doll or stuffed animal. They can also play with medicine syringes using water or paint. This can help them feel more comfortable with the medicine routine. It can also help them feel more in control.

Giving medicine

Tell your child what will happen first and what you will do next. Use a fun activity to reward them for taking the medicine. For example, you might say, “First, you will take your medicine. Then, we will play with your toys.”

Give your child some choices about taking their medicine. For example, “Do you want to take it yourself or have me give it to you?” “Do you want it with apple juice or water?” or “In a syringe or in a cup?”  Try to give just 2 or 3 choices. Too many choices can confuse your child.

If your child does things to slow down or avoid the medicine routine, calmly ignore the behavior and stick to the routine. You can take a break for a hug or a drink of water if your child gets very upset. Then go back to giving medicine. Remind them of the fun activity you will do after they take their medicine.

Praising your child

Describe what your child did well when you praise them for taking medicine. For example, it works better to say, “You did a great job taking your medicine when I asked you to,” than to say,” Good boy.” Tell your child exactly what you think they did right. 

General tips

  • Let your child know that you understand their feelings. You can tell them you know taking medicine is difficult or not fun.
  • Keep your attitude positive. Your child will feel anxious if they sense that you are stressed. Try to stay calm and avoid threatening your child. That can make the situation more stressful for them.
  • You can ask your doctor about mixing the medicine with foods, drinks, or syrups. This can help improve the taste.
  • Talk to your child about how the medicine can help their body. A child life specialist can help you find words your child will understand. Knowing why they need the medicine can make your child more willing to take it.
  • Many children do better at taking medicines when they are working towards a goal. For example, you might say “After you take all of your medicines today, we can watch a special movie tonight.” Your child might also feel proud of themselves if they see how well they are doing. For example, you could let your child choose a sticker or make a mark on a chart. They can do a fun activity or get a small prize for a certain number of marks or stickers.

Questions?

If you have questions about giving your child medicines, or want to teach them to take pills, please talk to your child life specialist. You can reach the Child Life department at 901-595-3020. You may also call Psychology at 901-595-3581.

This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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