Wondering how to get kids to take medicine? Discover the biggest reason your child puts up a fight, despite all the tips and hacks you’ve tried.
For some reason, when I was younger, someone thought it’d be a great idea to smash a pill into crumbs and mix into my glass of water. Back in the day, you didn’t have cherry-flavored medicine or chewable vitamins. Instead, when kids refused to take medicine, apparently you crumbled it into water, hoping they’d drink it.
While medicine has improved over the decades, many parents still find themselves struggling with getting their kids to take medicine.
Maybe your child still refuses to take her medicine, regardless of whether it’s flavored or not. She shakes her head to spill it everywhere, or spits it out even if you use a syringe to shoot it down the side of her mouth.
You’ve tried bribing with treats, mixing the medicine with food or juice (which only made it taste worse), and even allowed her to take it herself.
You even find yourself wrestling with her on the ground, prying her mouth open and her arms away. Still, she fights, kicks, screams, and sometimes—with the intensity of it all—vomits it right back up.
You dread looking at the clock and realizing it’s time for another dose, and can’t believe you have to do this for several more days. To add to the frustration, the medicine doesn’t even taste nasty—it’s certainly no crumbled pill in a glass of water—but she still continues to put up a fight.
How to get kids to take medicine
What gives? How has taking medicine morphed into a power struggle, especially when, at the end of the day, isn’t even the worst-tasting thing to take?
For most parents, giving medicine is simply another hassle, one they know will eventually go away once their kids are well. So they tolerate the antics and count down the days until this no longer has to be an issue.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if you made one simple change that could help you get your child to take medicine, all without a fight?
You see, the best tactic isn’t a special wrestle-hold or shooting the medicine down with a syringe. It all boils down to this:
Change the way you talk to your child about taking medicine
Yup, it’s that simple. But it starts by taking a higher look at what’s really going on: a sick child who’s already scared and suspicious of medicine, especially after all she’s gone through.
Yet here we are, forcing medicine and finding ways to get them to take it, without considering how they might be feeling.
So, what are a few simple ways you can talk to your child that can get her to take her medicine? Take a look at these important tips you can try right away:
1. Praise your child for being brave
My son was exhausted. We were in the emergency room, long past his bedtime, because earlier in the evening, he not only had a fever but a seizure as well. Nurses and doctors administered not just medicine but tests galore, from getting nose and throat samples to taking an x-ray.
As if he didn’t already have so much on his plate… now this.
We forget just how much kids go through when they’re sick, and how truly miserable they feel. Trying to get them to take medicine can feel like a nuisance to us, but feels that much worse to someone already unwell.
That’s why one of the best ways to show support and reassure your child that all will be fine is to praise her for being brave. She feels acknowledged for all she’s going through, and can see that, even though it’s uncomfortable, taking medicine is the brave—and right—thing to do.
Plus, this will help you show empathy the next time she needs to take her medicine again. She’s not trying to make trouble so much as struggling herself, both physically and emotionally.
2. Talk about medicine in a positive way
“You HAVE to take your medicine.”
“Let’s not throw a tantrum about taking medicine again, okay?”
“Why won’t you just drink it already?!”
How do you talk about medicine with your child? If you’re exasperated from the challenges of getting her to take medicine, then likely not in a positive way. And that’s understandable—she’s not exactly eager to take the next dose, even after all this time.
Still, watch how you talk about medicine, because your attitude can very well convince her to take it—or not.
Talk about how medicine will help her feel better and back to normal. Discuss how the medicine goes through her body to bring her fever down, or fight the germs or bacteria that are making her feel bad. Get better-tasting medicine and be excited when it’s time to take the next dose (instead of dreading it).
Simply changing your tone of voice and choice of words can make a huge difference with how your child sees medicine.
As I say in my parenting workshop, How to Get Your Child to Listen:
“Yelling and being bossy don’t feel good to either you or your child—you both come out of the situation feeling drained, upset, hurt, resentful, and a whole lot of other negative emotions.”
By the way, you can grab your cheat sheet template on what to do when the kids are sick. I also include a printable dosage tracker to note what medicines you give—and when. Join my newsletter and download the cheat sheet below:
3. Treat medicine as non-negotiable
Somewhere between pleading with results or threatening with punishment, taking medicine suddenly became a choice.
Here’s the thing: it’s not. Except your child will continue to think it is if you present it that way.
Yes, for some, gimmicks and techniques work, especially at first. But sometimes they do so at the cost of making medicine a choice when it’s really not. Think of it this way: you’d never think to not buckle her in a car seat, despite the epic tantrums she throws. The same is true with medicine.
You don’t need to be “mean” about taking medicine, but you do need to convey, even with compassion, that this isn’t a choice, but a necessity. When she realizes that medicine is non-negotiable—and when you follow through as well—then she’ll be more willing to comply.
4. Make taking medicine part of your child’s routine
Kids thrive with routine, especially because they don’t have to think about what to do next. One simple way to make taking medicine easier is to attach it to a regular part of your child’s routine.
Maybe that means she takes medicine after meals and snacks, or that she takes her antibiotic before taking a bath for the next few days. By tying it to a consistent part of her day, she’ll be more likely to expect it than if she were to take it at random times of the day.
One tip you can even do is to create a “dosage chart” she can see. Whether on a cardboard or dry erase board, write the dates and times she needs to take the medicine with boxes to mark them complete. Then have her cross off each box after she takes the medicine.
Not only will she have a visual cue, she’ll also feel more accountable for recording her doses.
5. Give your child a choice
One of the best ways to get kids to comply with something they typically resist is to offer them a choice. Having a say in how to take medicine can be all your child needs to finally do so.
To be clear: taking medicine or not isn’t the choice—that’s non-negotiable. But you can still say, “It’s time to take your medicine. Do you want me to hold the cup, or do you want to do it yourself?” or “Do you want to take the medicine in the bathroom, or do you want me to bring it to you?”
Notice that you’re okay with either choice, but at the end of the day, she’s still going to take the medicine. And one last thing: stick to two choices, because any more than that will be too many for her to weigh and decide.
We’ve all been there, whether it’s pleading with our kids to take medicine or feeling impatient when they won’t. But as you can see, the gimmicks and tactics aren’t necessary when you start from one important place: changing how you talk to your child about taking medicine.
Start by praising your child for being brave, for hanging in there, for doing things even when it’s hard. Watch how you talk about taking medicine and phrase them in positive ways. Treat it as non-negotiable, something that must be done despite their resistance.
Make taking medicine part of your child’s routine, and even have a visual chart she can see and use. And finally, give her choices, not in whether she wants to take medicine, but with how.
It’s totally possible to get your child to take medicine when you change the way you talk about it. Especially when you don’t have to crumble a nasty-tasting pill into a glass of water anymore.
Get more tips:
- How to Stop Your Toddler Whining (Even When You’ve Tried Everything)
- What Should You Do when the Kids Are Sick? This Cheat Sheet Has You Covered
- 9 Ways to Keep Kids from Getting Sick at School
- How to Help Your Child Cope with the Stomach Flu
- How to Respond when Your 3 Year Old Won’t Sleep
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