How to Get Toddler to Take Medicine

The person who takes medicine must recover twice, once from the disease and once from the medicine,” said William Oster, one of the founders of the world-renowned academic medical center Johns Hopkins Hospital. Although he probably meant physical recovery, it can also apply to emotional recovery. Now imagine that your toddler is sick and has to take some medicine. There is usually some protesting, crying, and sometimes screaming involved. By the time the medicine has finally been taken, both the child and the parents are traumatized and tired. It will take a while for all parties to recover, and then you have to go through it all over again in a few hours.

Unfortunately, taking medicine is inescapable. Because young children’s immune systems are still immature, it is normal for them to catch colds, get ear infections, and experience stomach upsets multiple times in a single year. In addition, they are encountering viruses and bacteria for the first time. Unless you keep your child in a plastic bubble, she will get sick. The best you can do is to make sure that she takes the proper meds to relieve her symptoms and speed up her recovery.

In this article, we share some tips for getting your toddler to take her medicine with as little fuss as possible. You will also learn about the tools you can use to determine if you are giving her the right dose.

How Do You Get Your Toddler to Take Medicine?

Nothing is more heart-wrenching for a parent than to see a child suffering from an illness. Alas, kisses and cuddles can only do so much. To help your sick tot feel better, you have to make her take her medicine at the right time and the right dose. But, what do you do if she refuses? Here are some parent-tested strategies for dealing with the situation:

1. Have the Right Attitude

Getting your child to take her medicine is not something you look forward to. Nevertheless, you should try your best to be positive. Put a smile on your face and pretend that you are playing a game—remember “here comes the airplane”? At the very least, avoid negative body language or facial expressions like grimacing and wincing. Kids take their cues from a parent’s emotions. Your toddler will pick up that she is about to experience something unpleasant.

2. Give Your Child Some Control

Toddlers are at a stage wherein they are beginning to flex their independence and push boundaries. This usually manifests in the use of their new favorite word: NO. To get them to agree to take their meds, it is best to explain what it is for and how it will help them. Allow them to choose the flavor if different options are available, or whether to use a dropper or a cup. By letting them make some of the decisions, they will feel more empowered and calmer.

3. Ask Your Doctor for Help                                        

Medications come in different forms and flavors, so you can ask your pediatrician for your options. Some drugs taste better than others. Pepto-Bismol for children, for instance, comes in a chewable bubblegum-flavored tablet form. Moreover, some meds are available in different concentrations. The doctor will be able to tell you if a substitution can be made. For example, she could replace the original dosage of one teaspoon of a 50-milligram concentration with half a teaspoon at 100 milligrams. The effectivity is the same, but the amount your child has to take is less.

4. Disguise the Flavor

Ask your pharmacist if she can add a flavoring agent such as FLAVORx to hide the taste and smell of the medicine. The best-selling flavors among children are bubblegum, grape, strawberry, and watermelon. These additives do not affect the stability or efficacy of the drug. You could also give your toddler ice chips or an ice pop to numb her taste buds before she takes her meds.

Another thing you can try is to store medicine in the refrigerator to improve its flavor. Steroids for treat asthma, like prednisone, taste bitter and are commonly spit out by kids. It has been found that a colder temperature can help ease the bitterness of this drug. Incidentally, children are more sensitive to bitterness than adults because it is nature’s way for them to avoid ingesting toxic substances.

5. Hide the Medicine in Food

Mixing the medicine with some ice cream, applesauce, or fruit juice can be a good tactic. Just ask your doctor first if this will cause any adverse reactions, and make sure that your youngster finishes the entire dose.

6. Bypass the Tongue

The tip and edges of the human tongue are very sensitive to taste and even more so with children because they have more taste buds than adults. To prevent your child from spitting out bitter-tasting meds, you could use a syringe (without the needle) to squirt the meds into her mouth while avoiding the tongue. The proper way to do it is to insert the syringe between the inside of her cheek and gums, towards the back of the mouth. Or you could also use a dropper. This technique requires some practice and help from an extra set of hands until you get the hang of it.

7. Don’t Lie to Your Child

Be honest with your toddler. If a medicine tastes bad even after you have tried to mask its flavor, be upfront about it. Take the opportunity to teach her that some things are good for you, but are not necessarily pleasant. Don’t tell her “this is the last time” if it isn’t—she will remember what you said and won’t trust you next time. Most importantly, do not refer to meds as candy and store them away from curious little fingers. You do not want to risk your child overdosing or giving the “candy” to a family pet or playmate.

8. Make fun!

Why so serious? Make fun while taking the medicine. You can even paint your face, some good ideas can be found on

How Do You Choose the Correct Dosing Tool?

Your child’s medicine, if it is in liquid form, usually comes with its own measuring and dosing instrument. These are better than a kitchen spoon or teaspoon because the measurements are more accurate. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of household spoons because they vary in size and could lead to an overdose.

In case you misplace the drug’s original measuring device or it does not come with one, ask your pharmacist for advice. The most common dosing tools are:

  • Dosage Cups. These are tiny plastic cups that have the units of measure printed on them. To measure out the correct amount, check the level on a flat surface, not your hand. Depending on the amount, it may take a couple of sips for your child to finish the entire dose.
  • Dosing Spoons. A dosing spoon looks like a test tube that is shaped like a spoon at the open end. To use it correctly, hold it up to eye level and pour in the prescribed amount. Be careful to hold it upright and not at a slant. This is more likely to spill than a cup, so make sure that your child sips slowly.
  • Medicine Droppers. These are best for infants or very young kids who have not learned to drink from a cup yet. Measure the correct dose at eye level and give it to your child quickly because droppers have a tendency to drip. You can drop the medicine into the mouth yourself or you can place the dropper halfway on the tongue and your child can suck on it.
  • Oral Syringes. These are the most accurate tools. After filling a syringe with medicine, tap out any air bubbles. Never squirt the liquid directly onto the back of your child’s throat because it might make her choke. As mentioned earlier, carefully and slowly dispense the meds along the inside of the cheek. Take breaks to allow her to swallow.

Important! Do not combine different medicines in a single device at the same time. In case you overfill it, discard the excess liquid and do no return it to the original container to prevent contamination. And always wash and dry the dosing tool in between uses.

Taking Medicine Can Be Stress-free  

It may seem that the sicker a toddler is, the more difficult it is to get her to take her medicine. But as she gets older, she will have a better understanding of the importance of meds. The likelihood that she will spit them out will lessen and eventually, she will learn how to swallow pills. In the meantime, there are some methods you can try to ensure that she is getting the right dose. Just be patient and consult your pediatrician if you need more advice.

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