Katie Taylor headshotCertified Child Life Specialist, Child Life on Call founder, and expert Piper + Enza contributor Katie Taylor shares some ideas and strategies to help your child take medicine more easily — something that parents and caretakers are challenged with all too often!

Do you have trouble getting your kids to take their medicine? Many parents struggle to get children of all ages to complete the task, especially if it’s a challenging medication or supplement. 

While this is likely frustrating and challenging, there are effective strategies you can use to help make sure they get the proper dosage. By understanding how best to meet each of your child’s needs as they grow, you can provide them with the necessary support while ensuring they maintain good habits well into adulthood. 

In this article, we’ll explore helpful tips and tricks for helping your child take medicine so that your experiences remain as positive and stress-free as possible!

Taking Medicine Is Non-Negotiable

As a child life specialist, I often get consulted to help kids take their medicine in the hospital. It makes complete sense that children may have a difficult time with it. While much of their control has been taken away while they are hospitalized, children will offer to exercise their authority whenever possible… often in the form of refusing medicine.

When I speak with parents before working with the family as a whole, I make sure to tell parents that the message they need to convey to their children is that taking medicine is not a choice. It is non-negotiable. 

Yes, there are things that kids can make choices about when it comes to taking medicine (and we’ll explore those), but overall, the child needs a clear, compassionate message from the parents that the medicine is not a choice. 

Setting up this mental framework for parents serves two purposes:

  1. It demonstrates the importance of taking medicine. The doctor has prescribed medicine for a specific reason, and in order to heal, the medicine must be taken. Making sure your child understands the “why” behind the medicine is an important step here.
  2. Although the medicine is not a choice, we can allow the child to take ownership over other parts of the process.
Help Your Child Understand “Why” They Need the Medicine

Knowing how to explain to your child why medicine can benefit them may not come naturally, and that’s ok. We understand that it can often be difficult or confusing to properly explain the purpose of taking the required dosage of medication; not only why they need it now, but also what implications its use could have later in life. 

Be Prepared Beforehand 

It is important that you have a clear understanding of the condition your child needs to treat before explaining the medication they must take. Be sure to ask their doctor any questions you may have about their condition so that your explanation will be accurate and complete. Additionally, research any potential side effects or long-term implications of taking the medication so that you can address these points of concern truthfully and in detail. 

Take Your Time 

Explaining medications can be overwhelming for some children; ensure that they understand by breaking down your explanation into simple steps. 

Use Visuals

If you have a younger child, play is an effective tool to describe the “why” of taking medicine. For example, grab a sheet of paper and draw the outline of a body on it. If your child is taking medicine for strep throat, use one color marker to draw the infection. Use another marker to “erase” the infection. Refer to the “eraser” as the medication.

Be Honest, but Reassuring 

It is important that you remain honest throughout this conversation. If they will be taking the medicine for days or months, you’ll want the original conversation to be rooted in honesty. 

In some cases, it may be necessary to discuss potential side effects; however, emphasizing how short-term these effects are likely to be will help put their mind at ease regarding any longer-term risks associated with taking the prescribed medication. 

If there are any lifestyle changes that must be made due to taking the medication (i.e., certain foods which should no longer be consumed), now would be an ideal time for such details, as well. 

Creative Ways to Give Your Child Control When Taking Medicine

It is natural for children to want and need control over their bodies, especially when it comes to taking medicine. As parents and caretakers, it is important to find creative ways to give your child control over the process of taking medicine without sacrificing safety or accuracy. Here are some ideas for how you can do just that. 

Establishing Routines

Establishing routines is one way to give your child some control over the process of taking medicine. You can do this by creating a routine that allows them to take their medicine first thing in the morning or right before bedtime. This will help them understand that taking their medicine is part of a daily ritual, and it is something that needs to be done every day. It also gives them a sense of ownership and helps them understand that they are an important part of the process. 

Using Rewards

Rewarding your child for taking their medicine can also be an effective way to give them more control over the situation. For example, you could offer rewards such as stickers, extra time on video games, or anything else that motivates your child positively. This will help create a positive association with taking medication and will give them something to look forward to afterward. 

A simple “check mark” in a box is another cost-effective way to promote self-esteem for a child who successfully takes their medicine. You can find free downloadable charts here.

Involvement in Choosing Medication

Involving children in choosing how they take medicine is another great way to give them more control over the process. You can talk with them about different ways to take the medicine and see which one they’d like to try.

  • Do you want to take the medicine in a medicine cup?
  • Do you want to take the medicine in a syringe?
  • Who pushes the medicine in your mouth?
  • Do you want a sip of juice before or after?

This will make it easier for them because they know how they are going to take the medicine and have a plan for how it will go. 

Taking medication does not have to be a painful experience for either parent or child. By giving your child options and getting creative with distractions, you can make sure that your child gets their necessary medications without feeling overwhelmed by the process itself. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to provide better support and understanding while helping ensure safety and accuracy at all times.

Katie Taylor is certified child life specialist, podcast host and CEO + Founder Child Life On Call, and a Piper+Enza expert contributor.