Persuading Toddlers to Take Medicine

How can I get my three-year-old son to take his medicine? He's prone to get the coughs, ear infections and fevers that are so common among kids his age, but he doesn't like swallowing the medications our doctor recommends. It's an ongoing battle for me to force it down. Is this normal? Can you suggest anything to solve the problem?

Yes, this problem is normal. Preschoolers aren’t mature enough to understand that yucky-tasting medicine is actually good for them. Unfortunately, they are old enough to refuse to take it and make your life miserable.

One option is to consult with your pediatrician or family doctor. Perhaps he or she can recommend a more pleasant-tasting version of the medication. Sometimes a brand-name version of the prescription will taste better, sometimes the generic version wins the taste test. Some medications are available in flavored chewable tablets which many children enjoy. In certain cases requiring antibiotics, a single shot can take the place of a course of medication. While this will not be your child’s favorite option, if it means he will get the medicine he needs you might want to consider going this route. Ask your doctor.

You can also ask your pharmacist if the medication can be mixed into milk or food. Chocolate milk does a pretty good job of masking even the foulest-tasting liquid medicine. As long as mixing the medication won’t alter its properties in any way, this can be a good alternative. If the medication is a liquid, ask the pharmacist if he or she can add flavoring to it.

You might also set up a system of rewarding cooperation with a treat of some kind. The key is to find something that motivates the child to action. For some kids that might be a tasty, healthy snack. Others might respond more favorably to a favorite toy, a game, or a children’s video. Putting a special paper on your refrigerator and adding a sticker each time he takes his medicine is another great way of acknowledging and rewarding his compliance.

Another idea is to use a timer. It’s often helpful for parents to purchase an inexpensive kitchen timer and make a game of taking the medicine. You can also use the timer to back up your promise of a reward – if he doesn’t take his medicine before the timer goes off he won’t get the offered treat. Many kids will hurry to complete a required task just so they can beat “Mr. Timer.” That’s not to mention that timers are remarkably objective and fair – they don’t lose their temper and they don’t respond to whining, complaining, or tantrums. They simply respond with “tick, tick, tick.”

If you need additional help, or if you’d simply like to discuss your question person-to-person with a member of our staff, we hope you’ll feel free to give us a call. Our counselors would be more than happy to spend some time talking with you over the phone.


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Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

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