Teaching Your Child to Swallow Medicines

April 6th, 2018

ask-dr-mom-taking-medicine-childrens-healthSometimes, even a spoonful of sugar won’t quite do the trick. Medicines in pill form can be hard for some kids to get down. When your child needs to take medication, they may struggle to swallow pills until they learn to master the skill.

And it is a skill … some people learn to swallow pills quickly and easily, and for others, it takes practice. For kids, swallowing the pill can be as scary as the sickness itself, and it is important to support them both physically and emotionally. Give them plenty of time so they don’t feel pressured. Ignore negative behavior, and heap praise on the positive. Have your child take a deep breath and let it out slowly as you begin practice.

Experts suggest starting with candy. Begin with a tiny piece. After helping your child swallow it two times, move on to a bigger one. If after two tries they can’t succeed swallowing the bigger piece, go back to a smaller size for more practice. Here are some candies to practice with, from smallest to largest:

  • Sprinkles (the kind that are put on cupcakes)
  • Nerds
  • Mini M&M’s (smaller than the regular size)
  • Tic Tacs
  • Regular size M&M’s or Skittles
  • Jelly Belly brand jelly beans (smaller than other brands)
  • Good & Plenty

Try using water that is room-temperature or slightly warm. Encourage your child to take a sip of water before and after swallowing to help the pill go down. Don’t try the same method repeatedly – try different ways of swallowing to see what works best. Most people put the pill on the back of their tongue and drink water until the pill goes down their throat. Some people like to put water in their mouth and then put the pills in with the water, then swallow the water and pill together. Other people have success putting the pill in their mouth, and then drinking water through a straw.

Some kids are afraid they might choke on a pill. Have them open their mouth in front of a mirror and say “ahhhh,” like you do at the doctor’s. Have them notice how big their throat is, and point out how easily pills will fit.

Have your child tilt their head back slightly when they swallow so it’s easier to get to get the pill down – but don’t do this for capsules – they float. Instead, have them tilt their head down a little so that the capsule floats to the back of their mouth. Or try having them look straight ahead while swallowing. Everyone has a method that works for them.

If the problem is more about smell and taste of the pill, slip it into a spoonful of ice-cream, applesauce, or other soft food – but do not crush or break pills because they won’t work as effectively.

Practice for 10 to 20 minutes per day. End with a “success” – make sure they swallow the last pill of the practice session, even if you need to go back to a smaller size. If your child is still having trouble, work with a psychologist or therapist to help them manage their anxiety. Hypnotherapy or using a pill swallowing cup are other options that may help. If they have trouble swallowing other things (not just pills), talk to your doctor. They may have a condition that makes it difficult to swallow.