When Kids Fight Meds


Back when you guys sent me great feedback (which you can still send, btw) for the yet-to-be-announced new feature, an Asthma Mom reader whose child has asthma, allergies, and reflux emailed me a really thorough, thoughtful reply that included this sentence:

I want to know (PLEASE TELL ME) how to get so much medicine into my little boy without feeling like I am torturing him.    – Amanda

I assumed Amanda was struggling to give nebulizer treatments to her two year-old, since I well remember daily torture sessions between me, the nebulizer, and AG when she was little. After emailing her back, though, I discovered liquid meds were the problem, and that’s not a battle I ever had to fight with my daughter. Interestingly enough, most websites I found recommended strategies based on child psychology rather than taste, since adding meds to treats can lead to bad eating and medicine-taking habits. Here’s what I found:

1. Well, you can try making the medicine taste better if you’re desperate, though.
You want to ask your pediatrician or specialist’s office about this one–and ask about each medication. Ice cream, applesauce, and OJ appear to be favorite mix-ins, although i don’t know how practical this step is for a kid that takes several daily meds. I mean, there are only so many hours in a day.

A quicker taste tip that seems like it would work: dip a spoon in chocolate syrup and then add the medicine.

Or you could ask your pharmacy to change the flavor.

2. Ask for higher concentrations or tablets.
More highly concentrated liquid meds make for smaller dosages, and kids may prefer chewable tablets if you can get them.

3. Explain how the meds work and what happens if your child doesn’t take them.
The theory at work here is that kids will tend to accept meds more willingly if they know they’ll get sicker, feel worse, and miss playtime without their medications. I use this strategy now, though probably not the way it’s intended, since AG has gotten more self-conscious about her inhalers as she’s gotten older. When she drags her feet and says, “I hate doing my inhaler!” I reply with, “Do you hate the hospital more? ‘Cause that’s where you’ll end up without it.”

(I know, I know. Not the best way to handle it. I’m ashamed. And also? Too frustrated to care sometimes.)

4. Give your child a choice.
Getting toddlers to take medicine mirrors the struggle to diversity their diets’, apparently. Yes, I’m talking about the control game. Toddlers like to assert their independence, and some sites recommend using this knowledge to disarm the little manipulators. Say something like, “Do you want your medicines right now, or would you like to get dressed before you take them?”

5. Stick to a routine and give rewards.
This particular reader has already tried the reward system, but for anyone else fighting with a toddler over meds, remember that continuity leads to habitual behavior. Give meds at the same time and in the same place each day, and set up a trackable reward system, like a sticker chart.

6. Refuse to fight.
Again, it’s all about being a toddler in an adults’ world. Some parents find success by defusing the whole situation to make kids feel like they “won” this round. Take a time-out for five minutes and then try again or let another adult take over.

These seem like good suggestions to me, but I’m a loss here. I was lucky enough that AG took her liquid meds willingly as a little kid. If you guys have any input on them or any tips of your own, please leave them for Amanda in the comments below.

Sources: PBS Parents and Keep Kids Healthy

21 responses to “When Kids Fight Meds”

  1. wendy says:

    Distract, distract, distract. That’s what my daughter does to give her 20 month old her nexium (for reflux).

    As well, she was prescribed a mast stabilizer for her eosinophilic colitis (4 times a day). Well, this med made her worse, and getting it into her was a nightmare.
    While the toddler was distracted by giving her doll her medicine, my daughter would quickly slip the syringe (no needle, just medicine) into her toddler’s mouth. Sometimes it worked, other times she spat it right out.

    Applesause was working well, until the doctor said it had to be given with water. The med was apparently neutralized with food.

    My daughter stopped giving her this med and is awaiting the prescription for something else. Prednisone, we hope to control the inflammation.

  2. Andie says:

    I found the book “Parenting Children with Health Issues: Essential Tools, Tips, and Tactics for Raising Kids with Chronic Illness, Medical Conditions & Special Health …” by Foster W. Cline and Lisa C. Greene to be a worthwhile read. There are some good strategies in there based on giving the kids responsibility & control, etc. While I find it to be a good resource, the author(s) do have a Christian perspective and so there are occasional references to God (in a Christian context) – it didn’t bother me especially but I noticed it, and that may be relevant to someone else.

    I am ordering my own copy so I can’t look up how to deal w/ this issue specifically, but the book uses examples of parenting through type 1 diabetes, asthma, kids who need wheelchairs, etc.

  3. Amy says:

    Thanks, Wendy, and I hope your poor granddaughter gets some relief soon.

    Andie–Thanks for pointing out the larger issue of kids’ responsibility/control with chronic health issues. It’s important to think about–I know I’ve been reading more on it as AG gets older.

  4. Kate says:

    When my son was a toddler and he needed to take medicines that he did not like I stumbled on a routine that worked. I would gently take him on my lap and we would sit in our downstairs bathroom (on toilet with seat down) with the meds waiting. I would just say very matter-of-factly, “I’ll sit here with you and we can talk, but we can’t leave and play until you take your medicine.” I would talk to him, maybe sing a bit but wouldn’t tell stories or do anything very engaging. It never took more than 5-10 minutes (and usually far less) before he would cooperate and swallow the icky stuff. I’d have water waiting so he could rinse and swallow immediately afterwards.

  5. MC says:

    As someone who can’t take most tablets as they contain lactose and backfire on me, I’m stuck with a lot of liquid meds. And this week I discovered the yuckiness of orapred and liquid zantac. I tried several things till finally by accident last night I came up with a solution, though I’m not sure it’d work with all meds, if you can’t give them with food.

    I follow up the ones I can with a teaspoon of sunbutter (sunflower seed butter). Peanut butter may work, but I’m not allowed to have nuts/peanuts, so sunbutter works well for me. The icky taste of orapred is gone within 5 seconds, as compared to the 5 minutes it takes for it to go away on it’s own, no matter what else I’ve tried.

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