Tips for Giving Children Medication



Parents and caregivers of young children sometimes lose patience when it comes to giving children medicines. There are so many on the market with terrible tastes and unpleasant administration routes that some children refuse to take them. All of this combined makes for harried parents and caregivers alike.

Make sure children understand the reasons they need to take medications. Some children may have fears about medication changing their personality or making them different. By explaining the type of medication and the part of the body or disease that it needs to affect, children are more likely to comply with doctor’s orders by taking their medicines.

Here are some tips that should help with giving children medication. Keep in mind that not all tips are applicable to your personal situation. Find out from your child’s doctor whether or not some medicines can be crushed or administered with food or juices. Your pharmacist can help with this too.

Liquid Medicines:

Liquid medication is the standard for many children until they are old enough to swallow pill form medication. In order to give the correct dosage, make sure you’re using either a measuring cup for liquid medicine or a dosing spoon or syringe from the pharmacy. For example, if you need to give 5 ml (1 tsp) of medicine, don’t just pour it into a teaspoon from the kitchen drawer. Many of these spoons contain slightly more than one teaspoon and some contain less. You can request a dosage spoon or syringe from the pharmacist, usually without cost. Most children’s over-the-counter medicines come with a small cup that measures medicine in several different units for parents and caregivers to use.

There are many liquid medications on the market today with unpleasant tastes. Luckily, pharmacists have worked hard to develop flavors to help mask the unpleasant tastes of some of these medicines. The good news is that most children like these flavors. The bad news is that not all flavors work well with medicines and once you mix a flavor with it (such as grape or banana), you can’t “undo” it. If the child still hates the taste of the medicine, they still need to take it despite its foul taste.

Many small babies need a little coaxing to swallow medication. Usually blowing a light puff of air in their face will cause them to blink and swallow reflexively. Sometimes chilling medication helps too. Check with your pharmacist before you do this since refrigeration can reduce the effectiveness of some medications. Finally, you can try mixing the medication with a small amount of liquid or food if it doesn’t alter the medication’s effectiveness. Your pharmacist can tell you whether or not this is possible.

Pill Medications:

Many children have difficulty swallowing pills depending on the size of the pill. Reasons children have difficulty swallowing range from physical maturity to emotional insecurities about the medication. Check to see if there is a liquid substitute for the medicine if possible. If there is not a liquid substitute for the medicine, ask the doctor or pharmacist if the pill can be crushed or broken into pieces to make it easier to swallow.

Some parents use M&M’s or other small candy to teach their child to swallow pills. M&M’s come in “mini” sizes, too, to help children work up to the size needed for the pill.  Be sure you keep track of the amount of candy your child is eating while you’re doing this exercise.

Inhaled Medications:

For asthmatics and children with other breathing difficulties, many of the medications used to treat their disease come in an inhaled form. Metered dose inhalers use the same concept as an aerosol spray can to deliver a medication mist that can be inhaled. There are also several dry powder inhalers on the market that are sometimes more difficult for children to use since they need to inhale forcefully in order to get the medication deep into the lungs.

There is simply no substitute for proper training with inhalers and children. Some physicians are reluctant to give a child an inhaler until they are at least eight to ten years old and prefer to use nebulized versions instead. A nebulizer is a small electric machine that turns a liquid medication into a fine mist.

When using a nebulizer on a small child, it is best to distract them as well as can be expected. Some doctors will allow “blow by” treatments where the mist is blown in front of the mouth and nose. Others insist that even infants use a mask. If you can give blow by treatments to an infant or toddler, sometimes putting them in a car seat or high chair with a favorite toy or a few pieces of cereal can help distract them from the medication. For older children, it is best to use a mask in order to get more of the medicine in their lungs. Using a favorite coloring book and crayons when they receive breathing treatments is often an incentive for children to sit still for the ten to fifteen minutes needed to finish the treatment.

If your physician recommends an inhaler for your child, make sure that the doctor’s office has trained your child and seen them use it before you take the inhaler home. A spacer is a small device that goes at the end of the inhaler that holds the mist in the chamber, allowing your child to take several deep breaths in order to help them get the medication in their lungs. The child can take their time between breaths and often feel they have more control over the disease when they can take the medicine on their own terms.

Injected Medications:

Perhaps the most feared medicine for children is the shot. Often children who have chronic illnesses will fear shots more than any other type of medication since shots associate physical pain with the other complications of the disease. To make it even more difficult, there are childhood immunizations that may confuse children as to why they need “sick” shots and “well” shots.

The best way to help children with these shots is to stay calm and relaxed yourself. Children, even small babies, can sense an anxiety and know that anxiety is not often associated with pain-free events. By staying calm, caregivers can help children understand that shots are necessary, even if they do hurt.

Don’t mislead children into thinking that shots don’t hurt. They often do. Explain that even if the shot hurts, it is necessary in order to overcome an illness or protect them from other diseases. Also, prepare children for needing a shot, even before you get to the doctor’s office. For children with chronic illnesses, they may receive painful injections on a regular basis. By staying prepared in advance, children may have less anxiety when the needle actually appears in the exam room.

Finally, reward the child when the experience is over. Reserve some treats for those times when painful shots need to be given so that the child feels special as a result. Even though you don’t want to reward children every time they take medicine, a special treat or visit to the park may help when medicines can’t be administered in any other way except through injection.

Regardless of the type of medication needed for children, there is no reason that parents or caregivers need to fear giving them. Children, when they understand the reasons behind the medication, can often be convinced to take their medication relatively stress-free. If you are having an especially difficult time giving medication to your children, have the doctor talk to the children. Sometimes, just hearing it from the doctor is enough to get children to comply.

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