Giving your child medicines

Every child will need to take medicine at some point during childhood but we know from talking to parents that this can be a worry at times.

Have a positive attitude when giving medicines to your child

If you are worried about your child having to take medicines, this often passes to your child who also becomes anxious. Although it is hard, try to stay positive. Also, have a set time for trying to give your child medicines. Most of the time, you have a window of time for giving the medicine, so there will be no harm in leaving it for an hour if your child is upset. It may be easier if your child has been distracted by something fun for a while beforehand.

"We make it fun as they pick up on negative vibes and emotions, which is remembered the next time and the whole experience is very painful for both parent and child." Mum of a seven-year-old.

Involve the whole family if possible

You can use sibling rivalry to good effect sometimes. If your other children are also taking medicines, try to arrange it (if possible) so that they all take medicines together. If you prefer, you could try to give a teddy or a favourite toy some medicine before giving it to your child.

"It is amazing how when a sibling takes a tablet, so can the patient!" Mum of two children aged five and eight.

Be honest

Explain to your child that the medicine is to help them feel better. If it is likely to be a long-term medicine, tell your child. If you know how the medicine works, it can help to explain it. For instance, some parents explain that antibiotics hurt germs and fight off infection.

"Tell them it’s to make their head or tummy etc better." Mum of one child aged two years.

Incentives

You don't have to rely on the old adage that ‘a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’. Other incentives work just as well with no risk to your child’s teeth. Many parents have used star charts with success. For instance, if a child takes his or her medicine without a fuss, they get a star on their star chart. When they have built up a certain number of stars, they are allowed to choose a reward. It is important to be consistent with star charts and also to make sure the reward is small enough to be repeated if your child continues to do well.

"My daughter needed 10 eye drops a day and each time she had one without crying or moaning, she got a star… When the chart was full, she chose a hamster. As the chart filled up, she almost started looking forward to her medication." Mum of two children aged five and eight.

Empower your child

If your child is having complex treatment, he or she may not feel in control any more. One way of giving a little bit of control back to your child can be through his or her medicines. There is rarely a choice in whether to take the medicines or not, but you could offer your child a choice of drink afterwards, an incentive as above or how to take the medicines.

"I allowed my daughter to choose where she had her medicine (eye drops) – sometimes it was under the duvet, at other times it was in the bath, but at least she felt in control." Mum of two children aged five and eight.

Masking

When you collect your child’s medicines from the pharmacy, ask whether they can be mixed with a drink or food. If tablets can be crushed, they can be mixed with a spoonful of yoghurt. Generally, crushing a tablet and adding it to a drink tends not to work very well as the bits can get left at the bottom of the cup. It is more reliable to mix the crushed tablet with a small amount of liquid and draw it up in an oral syringe. Another idea is to give a strong tasting drink afterwards.

"Give the child apple juice or strong tasting squash to wash down the horrible flavour." Mum of two children aged six and nine years old.

Ask advice

If you are having trouble giving medicines to your child, ask someone for help. Your local pharmacist will be able to offer suggestions and the play specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital have lots of experience in working with children around treatment.

Useful information

How to give your child ear drops or spray

How to give your child eye drops

How to give your child eye ointment

How to give your child liquid medicines using an oral syringe

How to give your child nose drops or spray

How to give your child suppositories

How to give your child tablets or capsules

How to help your child use an inhaler 

Compiled by: 
The Pharmacy department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group.
Last review date: 
April 2014
Ref: 
2014F0773

Disclaimer

Please read this information sheet from GOSH alongside the patient information leaflet (PIL) provided by the manufacturer. If you do not have a copy of the manufacturer’s patient information leaflet please talk to your pharmacist. A few products do not have a marketing authorisation (licence) as a medicine and therefore there is no PIL.

For children in particular, there may be conflicts of information between the manufacturer’s patient information leaflet (PIL) and guidance provided by GOSH and other healthcare providers. For example, some manufacturers may recommend, in the patient information leaflet, that a medicine is not given to children aged under 12 years. In most cases, this is because the manufacturer will recruit adults to clinical trials in the first instance and therefore the initial marketing authorisation (licence) only covers adults and older children.  

For new medicines, the manufacturer then has to recruit children and newborns into trials (unless the medicine is not going to be used in children and newborns) and subsequently amend the PIL with the approved information. Older medicines may have been used effectively for many years in children without problems but the manufacturer has not been required to collect data and amend the licence. This does not mean that it is unsafe for children and young people to be prescribed such a medicine ‘off-licence/off-label’. However, if you are concerned about any conflicts of information, please discuss with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.