How to Encourage a Child to Take Medicine
Many times a child will not take medicine
because it tastes bad, makes him feel sick to
his stomach or because he may be afraid of
choking or throwing up. A child also may
refuse because it is one of the few things
that he can control when he is sick or for the
attention he may gain from caregivers. The
child may also have oral motor problems, an
active gag reflex, or a bad experience with
taking medicine in the past.
It takes time and patience for a child to learn
a new skill. Remain calm and help your
child remain calm.
Never refer to medicine as candy.
Children learn best when they succeed.
Praise your child often for even a small
All caregivers should use the same approach
each time the child needs to take medicine.
Use positive self-talk (Have your child say
aloud what a good job he did).
Make it Fun! Recognize when you are
ξ Step back, take a moment to
yourself, and take a deep breath.
ξ Bring in a neutral party (ask another
person for help).
ξ Seek help from professionals (Health
Psychologist, Speech Therapist,
Provide only a couple of choices in how the
child can take his medicine. You might say,
“Would you like to take it with juice or
ξ When possible offer a choice about
the form of medicine (gel capsule,
pill, liquid, syringe).
ξ Crush and mix pills in a small
amount of something flavored.
Check with your pharmacist. Not
all pills can be crushed or taken
o If child agrees, you can mix it in
a food that he likes. Some
suggestion are applesauce, juice,
ice cream with chocolate syrup,
jelly, softened Starburst® candy,
Italian ices, pudding, Jello®,
o Flavor-X® which can be added to
some liquid medicines allows the
child to choose the taste of his
o Magic Shell® is a chocolate
topping which can be bought in
most grocery stores.
o Swallow Aid® is a gel which can
be put on a spoon with a pill to
help it slide down more easily.
ξ To help numb the taste buds, have
your child suck on a Popsicle® or ice
cube before taking medicine.
ξ Have your child try holding a stick
of gum or peppermint candy under
his nose while taking the medicine,
as smell sometimes adds to the bad
ξ Offer the child the option of pinching
his or her own nose to block the bad
smell. Avoid doing this for the child
as it can increase anxiety or
contribute to child feeling a loss of
ξ Have your child take a sip of a
favorite drink or a bite of food
quickly to change the flavor in his
mouth. Strong flavored candies such
as mints work quite well.
ξ Use a timer when structure or a time
limit is needed.
ξ Create a reward program. Simple,
straightforward programs can be
easily implemented at home. If
needed, a health psychologist can
assist you in developing such a
program to make it as effective as
ξ Depending on child’s needs, use of
distraction may be helpful in
reducing worry prior to giving
medicine. For example, a child may
watch a favorite video or look
through a pop-up book. Other
children, however, may respond best
with reducing the number of
distractions in the room (e.g., turning
off television, reducing number of
people in room) in order to be able to
focus on task at hand.
ξ Model taking pills through play with
dolls or puppets or have parent
ξ Teach your child to use relaxation
techniques to lessen anxiety.
o Progressive muscle relaxation
o Deep breathing
Hints for Pills
Remember pill swallowing is a skill that
almost anyone can learn – just like riding a
bike or tying shoes.
ξ Practice pill swallowing during
neutral, low-stress times.
ξ Use mini M&M®s, Nerds®, cake
decorating stars, Tic-Tacs®, Skittles®
cut into successively larger bits,
increasing sizes of bread rolled into
balls to help your child practice
ξ Slowly increase the size of the
training aid as the child is able to
swallow it. Limit the size of the
training aid to the same size as the
target pill to avoid choking.
ξ When you move on to empty gel
capsules (from a pharmacy), use the
smallest one that will work and fill it
with sugar or cornstarch to give it
some weight. Empty ones are hard
ξ Do not practice with soda, as the
carbonation fills up the stomach
quickly. Juice is fine, but water is
best. Limit the amount of fluid you
put in front of the child to 2-3 ounces
ξ Larger tablets may be cut and put
into easy-to-swallow empty gel
caps. Check with pharmacist.
What to avoid
Threats (“We cannot go home until you...”,
“If you don’t, then...”).
ξ Forcing against child’s will.
ξ Ridiculing or making child feel like
he has failed.
ξ Power struggles.
ξ Hiding medicine in food without
child’s knowledge, as trust is so
important for children, especially
when they are sick.
ξ Setting limits and not following
ξ Pressure which can increase a child’s
anxiety, as well as their need for
ξ Giving more support than the child
really needs. If you’re sure the child
is able to comply with taking
medicine without great distress,
don’t let the child get away with not
taking it. In such cases, the child
should not be allowed any fun
activities until the medicine is
ξ Letting the child skip a dose can
create a pattern of future refusals.
ξ Ending on failure.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 8/2017. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing HF# 6453