Four Tips for Giving a Child Medicine
by Sutter Medical Foundation
Giving medicine to a child can sometimes be stressful for parents — and children. It is important to give the correct medication and dose, at the right time and in the right way. Gretchen Berry, R.N., BSN, a Palo Alto Medical Foundation pediatric advice nurse, offers these simple tips to ease the process of giving medication to a child. If you have any questions about medications or dosage, consult your pediatrician or pharmacist.
1. Always Check the Label
Review this label checklist before administering medication (prescribed or over-the-counter) to your child.
- Medication name: Generic and brand name medications are available both over the counter and through prescription. In general, generic and brand name medications have the same active ingredient — the main difference is cost. Always read the label, especially if your child has a known medication allergy. Also, make sure the medication has not expired.
- Correct dosage: One of the most common mistakes parents make is giving the wrong dosage, often mixing up teaspoons and tablespoons. Always double check. Some medications are based on your child’s weight, not age.
- How often and how long: Keep track or set a reminder to give the medication so that no doses are skipped or given too early. Always finish medication as directed — especially antibiotics — even if your child starts to feel better.
- Special instructions: Always review the instructions on the bottle or packaging. Some medications have to be given with food, on an empty stomach, shaken before given or refrigerated.
- Side effects: It is important to review with your pediatrician or pharmacist any possible side effects of medication for your child.
2. Use the Right Tool
- Give the medication in the original dropper or syringe that came with it.
- Use an oral medication syringe (available at most drug stores) to give medication to an infant or young child. If your child is cooperative and able to drink from a cup without spilling, a medicine cup is a good choice, too.
- Don’t use a kitchen spoon, as they are not all the same size and therefore not accurate for proper dosing purposes.
3. Improve the Taste
Sometimes kids resist taking medication. Often, this is because the medication simply does not taste good. Some helpful suggestions:
- For over-the-counter medications, choose a flavor that your child might like. For prescription medication, inquire at the pharmacy for a flavor mix-in to help with the taste.
- Ask your pharmacist if mixing liquid medication with breast milk or formula (in a syringe, not a bottle) is an option, as this will help dilute the flavor and may make the medicine more palatable for an infant. For a young child, a good option is to hide the medication in a flavored liquid food.
- Never mix medication into your child’s bottle or cup. If your child fails to drink the entire bottle or cup, it will be impossible to know exactly how much he or she ingested.
4. Use the Right Method
- To help your child swallow medicine from an oral syringe or a dropper, gently and slowly squirt the liquid between the tongue and the side of the mouth. Make sure you do not squirt the liquid into the back of the throat, as this could make your child gag or choke.
- Be patient, stay positive and have fun with it. Turn it into a game, track doses with a sticker chart, or have a stuffed animal take a dose first. When your child is old enough to understand (usually after age 4), explain the importance of taking medication whether they want to or not. If your child vomits important medication, or you are unable to successfully give the medicine to your child, contact your pediatrician.