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How to Get Toddlers to Take Medicine Easily

Caden demonstrating how easy it is to get a toddler to take medicine




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

Sick season is upon us, which means you’ll likely be battling your toddler to take medication sometime soon. There is nothing worse than your child having a fever, but refusing medication to help ease the temperature. They are upset, you are upset, it's all around a frustrating experience. I want to help you understand how to get your toddler to take medicine.

As parents, we've all faced the challenge of getting our children to take their medicine. Pleading with our little ones to just take ONE sip of the doctor-prescribed antibiotic. We had to get REAL crafty when Caden got Hand Foot Mouth as he was refusing to take fever medication in all forms. We tried liquid, we tried chewable, we tried hiding it in chocolate milk, chocolate pudding, ice cream, cake, applesauce, the list goes on. Nothing worked. 

So after reaching out to my best mom friends for advice, here’s the proven tricks they’ve found to work.

Why Does My Toddler Refuse Medicine?

The bitter or strange taste of most medicines is the primary reason our toddlers put up a fight. In other cases, it's about control. Toddlers are in a phase where they are discovering their autonomy, and being forced to take something they are unfamiliar with can lead to resistance.

Make Taking Medicine Fun

Incorporating Play and Imagination

Everything is more enjoyable when it's a game for a toddler. The same applies to the task of getting your toddler to take medicine. Turn medication time into a fun role-play scenario. This could be a make-believe doctor's office where everyone, including stuffed animals, takes turns pretending to take medicine.

Use of Props and Tools

Props and tools such as basic medicine dropper or ones designed like animals or favorite cartoon characters can make a huge difference. A fun syringe or a medicine spoon with a friendly face, can change your child's perspective.

Minimize the Taste of Medicine

Mix with Drinks

A simple trick to get your toddler to take medicine is to mix it with a special drink. Be it juice, chocolate or strawberry milk, or smoothies (I've had success with a thick, creamy peanut butter smoothie!), the taste can mask the medicine's flavor. We had success with mixing liquid medicine with chocolate milk or crushed up meds in a smoothie. But remember to consult with your pharmacist or pediatrician before doing this, as some medicines shouldn't be mixed with certain liquids.

Mix with Sugary Foods

Like the sage words of Mary Poppins, some times a spoonful of sugar absolutely makes the medicine go down. Mix the medicine with a little bit of a sweet treat, like chocolate pudding, apple sauce, or honey (for toddlers over a year). This is especially good if you are crushing up chewable medication.

Chasing With a Favorite Food

It can be helpful to have a spoonful of creamy peanut butter or a chocolate M&M to ‘chase' the taste away. The rich flavors of these snacks can provide a distraction and make taking medication a more enjoyable experience, they may even look forward to.

Cooling it Down

Sometimes, when you chill the medicine in the fridge for a little while, it can help to numb the taste slightly. This can be particularly useful for medications that have a strong or unpleasant flavor, as the cold temperature can provide a refreshing and soothing sensation in your mouth. Be sure to consult with your pharmacist to make sure you can do this with whatever medication you are using.

Test Different Formats

Liquid vs. Chewable Options

Medication comes in various forms, and one type may be more palatable to your reluctant toddler than another. Liquid options can be easier for young children to swallow, while chewable tablets might be more appealing to older kids. Chewable options often have a less medicinal flavor and can be perceived as a special treat. For prescriptions, it's always a good idea to check with your pharmacy to see if they offer the option of selecting flavors. Services like FlavorX can provide a wide range of flavors to choose from, making children's medication more enjoyable and easier for your little one to take. Similarly, there are chewable tablets with a different flavor that you can try until you find something that works for you and your child.

Swap Children's Options for Unflavored Adult Medication

If your child strongly dislikes the taste of kids medicine, or if the flavor is immediately recognizable when you try to conceal it in food or drinks, then you might consider using adult medication as an alternative. Ultimately, this is what we ended up doing when Caden had a severe case of HFM to help with fever and pain.

To ensure the safety of your child, it is important to understand the appropriate dosage and then carefully cut and crush the medication to match it. By incorporating it into their food, you can create the ultimate hiding spot, ensuring that the medication goes unnoticed.

Involve Your Toddler in the Process

Explaining the Importance of Medicine

Try explaining to your toddler why taking medicine is essential. Use terms and examples that they can easily understand. For instance, you could say that the medicine is a warrior that fights the ‘sick' monsters inside their body. Personalizing the experience might make your toddler more willing to cooperate.

Providing Choices

Providing choices can also be a successful strategy when it comes to getting your toddler to take their medication. Would they like to take it with a spoon, a syringe, or a small medicine cup for receiving liquid medication? Do they want to drink it themselves or would they like you to assist them? Their refusal to take medication may be due to taste, fear of swallowing pills, or even the desire to have control of something when sick at home or at the hospital. Although these seem like small decisions, they can empower your toddler and make the medicine-taking process feel less imposing.

Reward Your Toddler After Taking Medicine

Rewards aka Bribery at Its Finest

Let's be honest, sometimes a little bribery can go a long way. Offering a small reward like iPad time, presents, or chocolate candy after they take their medicine, such as a sticker or an extra story at bedtime, can provide the motivation your toddler needs.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement goes hand in hand with rewards. Applaud your toddler for doing a good job and let them know you're proud of them. A positive attitude and words of encouragement can create a positive association with taking medicine, even for older kids. In the end, understanding how to get your toddler to take medicine can be less about the medicine itself, and more about the approach you take. This will create a better experience and make it easier for you and your child the next time. Additionally, allowing your child practice giving medication to a doll or stuffed animal can also be helpful in familiarizing them with the process and reducing any anxiety they may have.

The Combo of Tricks I’ve Had Luck With

I will say getting Caden to take his medicine at 3.5 years old has been much easier than 2.5 years old. The combo of tricks that has seemed to resonate this year, most recently when he had to take antibiotics for strep throat, was allowing him to dispense the medicine out of the bottle himself (of course we helped with proper dosing), and then allowing him a small cup of chocolate milk as a reward after, which he loved using that same syringe for to slurp it up and drink it. It became a fun game, he literally begged us to do multiple times a day.

toddler finishing taking his medicine


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