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Giving Medicine Safely
Medicine can be invaluable in curing children's illnesses and relieving their symptoms. However, it can become a poison if given incorrectly. Don't take any chances with your child's safety.

  • Read the label carefully to make sure you give the right dose. Prescription labels state the dose for your child; over-the-counter medicines state the dose for your child's age and/or weight category. Don't trust your memory because medicines are easy to confuse. Just because your child takes 1 tsp of one medicine doesn't mean that's his dose for all medicines. For the fever-reducers acetaminophen and ibuprofen, there are two different liquid preparations for children: infant drops and children's suspension. The infant drops are more concentrated and require a smaller dose of medicine than the children's suspension.
  • Before giving two or more medicines at the same time, check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure it's safe. For example, some cough and cold preparations include a fever-reducer such as acetaminophen, and it could be dangerous to add a separate dose of acetaminophen.
  • Only give medicine that is approved for your child's age. If the label says, 'Under 2 years old, check with your physician' don't guess on the dose—ask the doctor. Don't give children aspirin—it can cause a rare condition called Reye Syndrome which can lead to brain damage.
  • Use a proper measuring device; don't use a household teaspoon which can vary in size. Use the measuring device provided with the medication such as a medicine dropper or syringe, cylindrical medicine spoon, or plastic medicine cup. These measure in different units: ml. or cc, tsp., Tbsp., or oz. Make sure the measurement unit on your measuring device is what's required on the label.
  • Get your child's cooperation to take the medicine. Explain why she needs it and how she's going to take it. Give her a few moments to prepare. Be gentle but firm. Never call medicine 'candy' because it encourages children to try to get it themselves.
  • Stay focused when you're giving medicine. If the phone or doorbell rings, ignore it until you finish with the medicine, secure the medicine by replacing the safety cap and returning it to the cabinet, or take the medicine and/or the child with you.
  • Set a good example. Avoid taking medicines in front of children because they might try to imitate you and get into the medicines. Don't drink medicines such as cough syrup directly from containers—always measure the proper dose.
  • If somebody else (e.g., a spouse, relative, or child care provider) is also giving your child medicine, make sure they follow the same safety precautions. Communicate clearly when you gave the medicine and when the next dose is needed.

Be prepared for an emergency
In advance:
  • Find the telephone number for Poison Control in the emergency services section of your phone book and keep it posted near your telephone.
  • Keep a 1-oz. bottle of Syrup of Ipecac safely stored in your medicine cabinet in case Poison Control tells you to make your child vomit up the medication.

In the event of an overdose or poisoning, try to stay calm and call Poison Control. Be prepared to tell them:
  • the name of the medication
  • the dose or amount
  • the time your child took it
  • your child's age and weight
  • medical conditions your child has or other medications your child is taking
  • your child's symptoms
  • your location and how long it takes to reach a hospital

Poison Control will tell you whether there is any danger and what to do. Follow their instructions closely.

There's a lot to remember in giving children medications safely, but it's worth taking the time and care to do it right.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician