As much as we hate it, kids get sick. From the time they’re tiny babies and get that horrible first snuffly cold to the advent of communicable viruses and such that comes from interaction with other kids at school and playdates, your child will be sick more than a few times during their time in your care. Sometimes they don’t need much more than a tissue and a night with the dehumidifier, but other times more stern measures must be taken.

Some kids can be persuaded to take their meds easily enough, and the invention of newer, better-tasting formulas and interesting dosage methods have certainly made things easier for many parents in terms of getting Junior and Jenny to swallow their medicine. However, some kids are resolutely medi-phobic. Here is a common-sense guide to giving your kids medicine, and some do’s and don’ts of giving kids medicine.


Give them some control. No, this doesn’t mean they get to call all the shots, but sometimes giving a child a bit of choice helps them feel less out of control. “Do you want to take this one or that one first?” or “Right now or after you’ve brushed your teeth?” are reasonable options to give, among others, depending on how often they must take the medicine and how strict the schedule is.

Supervise them. Sure, you trust your kid…but who’s to say he or she won’t just dump that little cup of liquid down the drain or spit out the pills when your back is turned? Don’t go all Nurse Ratched on them, but medicines like antibiotics and others requiring precise timing and dosage can’t be left to caprice.

Follow the directions. Always be exact about the label. If it calls for taking with or without food, or avoiding certain foods, etc., don’t scrimp.

Be Generous with Praise. If your child took their medicine, make sure you let them know how proud you are. If it won’t interfere with the medicine, even apply a bit of Mary Poppins and give a spoonful of sugar, although not literally—perhaps a Hershey’s Kiss or other small candy. Or, use a completely foodless reward and give them a gold star for good behavior, to redeem in the future for something they want. The value of a big hug and worse of praise can’t be underestimated, either.

Observe the Age Ranges. When it comes to OTC medicines, always stick with the manufacturers’ guidelines. Why? Because they are there for a reason. Kids react differently to drugs than adults do; even small quantities of certain chemicals cause no reaction in an adult but can prove dangerous to children. Generally, pediatricians advise not giving any kind of drugs, especially cold medicines, to infants under age 9 months of age or so.

Be a Good Example. Let your kids see you take your daily vitamins and/or any other pills or formulas you may take, to provide them with the idea that taking medicine is ok. However, make sure you keep your meds out of their reach, and let them know that it’s not ok for people to take each other’s medicines.

Help them Take Nasty Stuff Easier. Those nifty new film strips that dissolve on the tongue and the liquid-gels that are like fizzy candy are all the rage for allergies and such, but unfortunately not all meds are like that. If your child has to take antibiotics and other prescription drugs, they may be awful-tasting (despite the flavorings the pharmacies add) or chalky, which puts anyone off. In order to help them learn to take these, show them some tried-and-true techniques:

  1. Holding the nose. Ah, yes, this old favorite does indeed work. By following the dose with a gulp of juice or a swig of water you can cut the flavor; however, if it’s an expectorant, cough syrup or throat medicine, wait half an hour before giving liquids. Instead, have them take their medicine at the bathroom since and let them brush their teeth right away.
  2. Suck on an ice cube. By sucking on something icy for a minute or so before taking the medicine, the taste buds are numbed somewhat. Only do this with older kids, of course.
  3. Mix liquid medicine with a measured amount of yogurt or a V8 Smoothie, which will cover up the taste well and not dilute the medicine.

How to Swallow Pills. Eventually every kid has to learn how to swallow pills. Start out small: invest in a pill cutter, or carefully cut larger pills into smaller chunks, which will be easier to swallow. Have them place the pill at the very back of the throat and have them take at least 2-3 big gulps of water, while keeping their heads tilted back. While this is going on, stroke his or her throat in a repetitive, downward motion to induce peristalsis. This works well on dogs and cats, too!


Don’t mix medicine with food. Food changes the absorptive properties of medication, especially milk-based products. Also, you can’t be sure if they got it all if they didn’t eat the entire amount of food!

Don’t open capsules or crush pills to mix with liquids. Many medicines are time-release, meaning they need to be digested at a gradual rate, not in one big gulp. This can render the medication ineffective at best, and can be dangerous at worst.

Don’t force it. Sometimes it seems the only way is to hold them down and force them to take the medicine, but this is entirely the wrong tactic: some kids get so freaked out by this that they become hysterical and can even become physically ill, vomiting up that medicine you spent so much time and effort getting down their throats. If your child is being recalcitrant, this is the time to give them some decompression time. You have a little leeway even with medication that is rigidly scheduled; let the kid calm down, talk to them…heck, sometimes you may find bribery the only way to get it done. If so, comfort yourself in the knowledge that many other moms have walked in your shoes, and their kids didn’t turn out mass-murderers, ok?