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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices


Helping Children Swallow Pills


Many children find it hard to swallow pills and capsules. Most have never had to, since almost all medications for children are available in liquid form. However, pills have their advantages: parents know the child gets the entire dose, pills hide the flavor of medicines that taste bad, pills are easier to take when traveling, and pills do not have to be refrigerated like many liquids.

What is the best way to teach a child to take a pill? There are many techniques parents can try, but everyone agrees that it is a good idea for parents to teach their kids the technique of pill swallowing before they really need it. A sick or cranky child is not a cooperative student!

Here are some suggestions that might help:

  • Keep a calm and positive attitude
  • Be patient. Some normal children can't accomplish pill-swallowing until their late teens!
  • Show the child how to swallow pills calmly and quickly. Demonstrate by placing a tablet or capsule back in the center of their tongue. Have them quickly drink water, Kool-Aid, or their favorite drink through a straw. When the child concentrates on using the straw and swallowing the liquid, the pill usually follows quickly along.
  • Train in small steps with success at every stage. For example, have your child practice with a piece of small cake decoration. When the smallest size is swallowed without a problem, a slightly larger size may be tried. Then work up to the size of an M & M. Use substances that will melt if they get stuck or coat them first with butter. It is best to work in short sessions (5-10 minutes) several times a day over a couple of days.
  • Eliminate distractions during medicine taking time. Close the door, turn the TV off, etc. allowing the child can concentrate on the job at hand
  • If the child gags or vomits, be calm and clean up the mess in a matter-of-fact way. Let the child settle down and try again in 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Some kids like to play "Beat the Clock." Use a one or two minute time limit!
  • Give plenty of praise, such as "Oh good! You swallowed it right down." Avoid negative comments like "Only babies take liquid medicine." These comments rarely motivate children to try harder.
  • Some pills are easier to swallow if they are broken into halves. Check with the pharmacist first, however, to make sure a divided pill does not lose its potency.
  • Have the child drink a little water before taking the pill. Tables and capsules are harder to swallow when the youngster's mouth is dry (which often happens when they are sick).
  • As long as the pill does not have to be taken on "an empty stomach," have your child place a little piece of food on their tongue, next to the pill. Next have them drink some water to swallow the food and the pill usually goes down at the same time. Don't have your child tilt their head back too far when swallowing as this can sometimes make it more difficult for the pill to go down.
  • Another way to get a child to swallow a pill is to stick it in a cube of Jell-O TM. The pill will usually slide down easily with Jell-O.
  • One pharmacist recommended the "Tic Tac" strategy: Put a "Tic Tac" on the tip of the child's tongue. Place a glass of water filled to the brim on the table. Have the child suck in water from the brim without picking up the class. About one half mouthful will do. Remove the lips from the glass and quickly tip head back. The "tic tac pill" will be washed to the throat and swallowed with the gulp of water without the tongue being involved. The pharmacist claims this method works with kids as young as three years old.

 

As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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