Articles and Topics
How can I make sure my resistant toddler takes his medicine?
Q: I am having a heck of a time giving my 2½-year-old his medicine. He is taking four medicines right now, and it is more than a struggle to get a little into him. I am using the syringes, but he still spits out more then half of it.
A: Allison, while some children take medications easily, others are more sensitive to the taste or texture of medications. Also, 2½-year-old children often display their independence by refusing to cooperate. Talk with your son’s doctor. If he is actually getting down less than half of his medicine, the doctor needs to know because the medication may not be effective. Ask the doctor if it is possible to simplify your son’s medications by eliminating unnecessary ones, prescoting medications with less frequent doses or switching to chewable or inhaled medications.

There are helpful techniques for encouraging children to take their medications. Different techniques work for different children, so you might have to try several before you find what works. Here are some ideas:

  • Explain to your son that you need his cooperation to take his medicine. Explain why he needs the medicine (to stay healthy, so he doesn’t cough, so he can be strong). Appeal to his maturity and sense of responsibility, “Now that you’re a big boy you can choose. Do you want to use the squirter, spoon or little cup to take your medicine? Do you want to give your teddy bear some pretend medicine before you take yours? Do you want to hold your nose while you swallow the medicine?”


  • Try incentives and distractions. If your son enjoys a particular video or television show, tell him that he can watch the show after he takes his medicine or give him the medicine while he’s being entertained by the show. Consider setting up a star chart for his cooperation, and do something special at the end of each week for his stars.


  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see whether the medicines can be mixed with milk, juice, applesauce, pudding, yogurt or syrup to mask the taste. Some medications lose their potency when mixed with other substances. Also, when mixing the medicine, use only a small amount of liquid or food since your child needs to finish the entire amount.


  • Try other ways to mask the taste. Give your child a taste of chocolate syrup or maple syrup before and after the medicine. Or numb his taste buds by having him suck on a frozen treat before giving the medicine.


  • Use a plastic syringe to gently squirt small amounts of the medicine into the side of your child’s mouth, inside the cheek. This helps avoid the taste buds on the tongue. Blow gently on his face to stimulate a swallowing reflex. Continue to squirt the medicine until it’s finished.


  • Keep trying. Sometimes it takes a while to find what works for your child.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician