Getting kids to take medicine is like pulling teeth. Yes, it tastes bad. No, you can’t not take it. Try holding your nose and swallowing. In many homes, taking medicine turns into a major fiasco.
And if kids have a bad experience with medicine, it can make it even more difficult to get them to take it in the future. For kids with chronic conditions, every day can feel like an uphill battle when it comes time to give your child his medicine.
But with the right strategy, you can coax your kids into taking their medicine without the fits, fussing and fighting.
Table of Contents
- Why Do Kids Hate the Taste of Medicine?
- Why are Medications Bitter?
- 10 Clever Ways to Help the Medicine Go Down
- What Happens if Your Child Spits Out the Medication?
Why Do Kids Hate the Taste of Medicine?
You probably remember hating taking medicine as a child. While there are a few exceptions, most medicines have a horrible taste. They’re bitter and unpleasant to swallow.
Bitter medicines are usually plant-based, which is what leaves behind that bitter taste when dissolved by saliva. In many parts of the world, bitter foods are not consumed on a regular basis, which makes them unpalatable.
Taste is shaped by familiarity, so if a child has trouble swallowing a bitter pill, his palate may change over time and grow accustomed to the flavor.
The tongue also has more bitter taste receptors than any other flavor. We have 43 bitter taste receptor genes and just three sweet taste receptor genes. That’s why bitter flavors are often stronger and linger more than other flavors.
Why are Medications Bitter?
Medications are purposely made to taste bitter to avoid overdosing and addiction. If medicine tastes good, we’ll be more inclined to take it. But with certain medications, that can present a problem, particularly with pain medicine.
The bitterness may make it more challenging to administer medicine, but it also keeps kids from seeking out the medication on their own and potentially overdosing.
For humans, bitter tastes make us not want to ingest something. We naturally associate this flavor with potentially toxic substances. That’s why we often see people spit out bitter foods.
In some cultures, bitter foods are consumed on a regular basis and are more tolerable. But most people tend to view bitterness as an unpleasant flavor that we’d rather avoid.
The bitter taste of medicine may make it unpleasant to take, but it’s more helpful than harmful in the end. The last thing we need is for medication to taste like candy.
For parents, the unpleasant taste can make it extremely challenging to administer medicine. But there are ways to change your child’s perception of medicine and make it easier to take it.
10 Clever Ways to Help the Medicine Go Down
Some kids have no problem taking their medicine. Others will fight tooth and nail to avoid it. If your child is the latter – or somewhere in between – these ten medicine-taking strategies may help.
1. Try Different Flavor Options
Why do kids hate taking medicine? Because it tastes bad. Most medicines are bitter, even when flavored.
But here’s some good news: many medicines come in a variety of flavors.
Explore your options when it comes to flavors. Dr. Cocoa, for example, offers cold and cough medicine that tastes just like chocolate syrup (yes, it really does).
If your child is on prescription medication, check with your doctor to see what your options are as far as flavor or delivery method goes. Pharmacists can also use FLAVORx to make a medication taste better. Ask about this option if your kids are refusing to take their medicine.
2. Try a Different Medication or Dosage
It’s important to explore all of your options when battling the medicine-taking issue. Talk to your doctor about your options. See if there is another, better-tasting medication you can try. Maybe there’s another dosage option you can try to cut down on the number of times a medicine needs to be taken each day.
3. Mask the Flavor
“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” This famous line from Mary Poppins still rings true to this day.
Coating your child’s tongue with something sweet, like syrup, can help mask the flavor of bitter medications. Try dipping a spoon in chocolate before filling it with your child’s medicine. That small dose of chocolate will make the medicine more palatable to your child – and help you keep your sanity.
4. Disguise It in Food
Depending on the medication, it may be possible to mix it in with your child’s food. In many cases, it’s safe to crush a pill or open the capsule to add the medication to your child’s favorite food.
Always ask your doctor about adding medication to food. Some medications may be altered if you open or crush them.
It’s also important to make sure that your child eats all of the food. Otherwise, he won’t get the proper dose of the medication.
5. Use a Different Delivery Method
Liquid medications and pills aren’t always easy to administer, especially with very young children. Choosing a different delivery method may make your life easier.
Try using a syringe or dropper to inject the medication into your child’s mouth. This method works particularly well with young babies who have an especially difficult time swallowing unpleasant-tasting liquids.
To avoid choking, make sure that your child is upright and firmly supported if you’re using this method.
If a syringe or dropper doesn’t work for your child, ask your doctor if the medication comes in any other form. There may be chewable tablets available, which are generally easier for older kids to take – especially if they have a somewhat pleasant taste.
6. Give Your Child Options
Relinquish some control and give your child options when taking medicine.
Allow your child to choose:
- How the medicine is taken (dropper, cup, etc.).
- When to take the medicine (before or after bath time, etc.).
- Which flavor medicine to take.
- Where to take the medicine (in the kitchen, on the couch, etc.).
Giving your child some control over how and when the medicine is taken will make him feel empowered. He’ll be more inclined to cooperate if he plays a role in the decision-making.
7. Chill Out
Here’s one trick many parents recommend: give your child a popsicle before he takes his medicine.
The flavor and cold temperature of this treat will help mask the flavor while numbing the taste buds.
8. Be Honest
Don’t lie to your kids and tell them their medicine is going to taste good. Don’t say the medicine is candy.
Be honest. Explain why they have to take the medicine and that it will help them feel better.
Appealing to your child’s sense of reasoning can be a powerful tool in the medicine-taking fight. If reasoning doesn’t work, you can always explain the alternative: not taking the medicine will mean having to go back to the doctor. It may also mean having to cancel fun plans or parties.
In many cases, explaining that the medicine will help them get better is enough to coax older children into taking it.
9. Be Positive and Give Praise
Try to make the experience as positive as possible and praise your child when he takes his medicine – especially if he takes it without a fight.
Maintaining a positive attitude is important. If the entire process is a chore and an unpleasant experience, kids will dread it. But if you’re positive about it and don’t make it a big deal, kids will be much more inclined to take their medicine with little fight.
The last thing you want is for your child to view his medicine as a form of punishment.
10. Ask Your Doctor for Help
If you can’t find a strategy that works, talk to your doctor. He or she may have some tips or recommendations that will make the entire process less stressful.
If your doctor can’t help, he or she may be able to refer you to someone who can.
What Happens if Your Child Spits Out the Medication?
We’ve all been there: you give your child medicine, and she promptly spits it out. Sometimes, medications don’t agree with a child’s stomach and they wind up vomiting it up a few minutes later.
If you find yourself in either of these situations, call your doctor before administering any more medication. Some medicines can be repeated without issue, but others can be harmful if too high of a dose is given.
While frustrating, it’s important to remember that your child isn’t purposely trying to make your life more difficult. Be patient and follow your doctor’s recommendations if your little one spits out her medicine.