Child Illness Parent Advice Kid Medication

Kids and medication are not ideal partners, as anyone who has had trouble giving medicine to a child knows. Most children simply don’t like taking medicine. When treating symptoms requires giving medicine to children, compliance can be a real battle.

Compliance simply means taking medicine at the time and dosage recommended by medical professionals. Even adults often have difficulty with compliance. So, it’s no wonder taking medicine regularly is one of the biggest issues with kids and medication.

Kids Refusing Medicine

Sick kids have a number of objections to taking medicine. Cold medication tastes “yucky,” headache pills are too hard to swallow or sore throats make swallowing medicine too painful. Giving medicine under these conditions is a challenge.

Children with chronic conditions may have other objections to taking medicine. A child with a chronic condition may have to take medicine at school and may not like being singled out as “different” through her regular trips to the nurse’s office.

Another possibility is that the frequency of doses the child is required to take may be burdensome to him, causing him to resist taking medication. For many chronic conditions, however, treating symptoms effectively relies on compliance and regular medication.

Suggestions for Compliance

When giving medicine to children, you often have to be creative. First, it’s important to let the child know why he’s taking medicine, so take the time to explain how antibiotics fight his flu bug, or how cold medicine relieves his stuffy nose. A little explanation sometimes goes a long way, especially if the child has to take long-term medication for chronic conditions.

However, because young children may not respond well to reason, giving medicine in such cases requires a mixture of praise, sleight of hand and sometimes downright bribery. If your child will take his medication in return for a shiny new sticker, don’t feel bad about resorting to bribery: You achieved compliance with a five-year-old, and that’s a parental achievement!

Sometimes taste is a very real factor in compliance. Some medicines, such as over-the-counter liquid cold medication, can taste pretty awful. Changing to a different flavored medicine that the child can tolerate increases the chance of giving medicine effectively.

If taking medicine in pill form is difficult for your child, check with your doctor or pharmacist for other options. Chewable tablets or liquid medications may be available.

You can also check to see if crushing a pill affects its medicinal value. If not, administering medication may be aided by mixing the crushed medication with a tablespoon of applesauce or another sweet and healthy treat. This method promotes compliance with taking medication because the child comes to associate taking medicine with more desirable flavors.

Some capsule pills can be opened and sprinkled on food or applesauce. As with crushing tablets, it’s vital to check with a doctor before trying this. Some capsule pills are time-released medications and opening the capsule may limit the medications’ effectiveness or cause unwanted side effects.

Taking Medicine in Pill Form

Taking medicine in pill form is impossible for very small children and babies: Pills are too much of a choking hazard. Babies usually receive medication in liquid form, and their only form of non-compliance is spitting the liquid back up.

You can minimize the chances of spit-up medication by giving medication with a dropper. Place the dropper in the baby’s cheek pouch and squirt it in. This makes the medicine more difficult to spit out and avoids the taste buds as much as possible.

Children over the age of five can be taught how to take pills. Taking medicine in pill form is easiest standing up, rather than lying down in bed. Thick liquids, such as smoothies, can help with pill swallowing, but many pills have to be taken with water. Praising your child for successfully swallowing “grown-up” medicine may help make compliance easier.

Mixing Medications

Before giving medicine to any child, ask a doctor or pharmacist about the effects of mixing medication. Some medication combinations can produce unwanted and possibly dangerous side-effects. This includes over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements.

Always ask your doctor about the dangers of mixing medication when giving medicine to children. Some prescription medication and antibiotics can react with over-the-counter cold medication, headache medication or even vitamins and specific foods. Grapefruit, for instance, can negate the effect of certain antibiotics. When giving medicine to sick kids, it’s better to be safe than sorry: once you have successfully gotten your child to take medicine, you want to be sure that the medicine can do its job.


Field, A. (1999). Medical maneuvers. Retrieved February 21, 2006, from the Parents Web site:

KidsMeds Inc. (2000). Getting kids to take medicine. Retrieved February 21, 2006, from the KidsMeds Inc. Web site:

Stenson, J. (n.d.). Freebies entice kids to take medicine. Retrieved February 21, 2006, from the Chirosmart Web site: