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#AskAlyson: How can I get my child to take her medicine?

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Hi Alyson,

My daughter (4) hates taking medicine.   It’s a fight to get her to swallow it and she will spit it out so I don’t even know how much she has taken.   Is there some way to help her get over this?  She works herself up into a total hissy fit.

Thanks,

Worried Dad

 

Dear Worried Dad,

 

There are a few things to try.  First off, if the medicine is only for comfort and symptom relief, I wouldn’t fight her on it.   You can say, “I think you will feel so much less congested and achy, if you just take some of this.  But if you would prefer to suffer those feelings instead of suffer the taste of the meds going down quickly – that is your choice to make.”

 

This gives a child a sense of control and agency.  The more control a child feels, the more likely they are to be cooperative and compliant when its needed in more necessary situations.

 

We are also more likely to win a child’s co-operation if we are allies instead of in opposition.  So position it that you are on the same team and it’s you and her against those mean old nasty tasting medicines.  Humor is always important in showing kids we are not fighting with them.  Try something like this:

 

“Hump – this medicine tastes yucky doesn’t it.  I bet we can outsmart that stinky medicine and find a way to take it if we work together.  Maybe we can see if the pharmacist has it in a better flavor like banana?   Hey! I have an idea… do you think we could sneak up on it, and throw some ice-cream on it while it’s not looking and gulp it down before it even knows it?”  “No? you don’t like that idea?  Do you have an idea?  What if we pinched your nose so you can’t smell it and taste it as much, and as soon as it down – have a big bite of a brownie to wash the flavor out?  Ohhhhh – how about we make a “how to video” so we can show other kids on Instagram how to take medicine when you don’t like it?”

 

If the medicine must be taken, you can ultimately give them the choice of taking it with you at home, or going to the hospital to have it administered, but it has to get in their body and that part is not a choice.  Let them know you love them so much that you have to do your parenting job of keeping them healthy.   Some children will test you, and you may have to drive to the hospital, park the car and ask the admitting nurse for assistance.  So far, I have never had a child enter the hospital – only park the car before agreeing they’d rather do it at home.

 

Remember that kids have very little sense of control in their lives and being medicated feels like just one more way you’re being instructed and told what to do or having things done to you.  The more you can train your child for skills and independence, the more likely they will be to accept when they don’t have much control.   Any form of choice is empowering.  Would you like to take your medicine in the kitchen or the bathroom?  Do you want to do it before reading our stories or after?  All those little choice points will help you win her co-operation.

 

If any other parents have winning creative suggestions, please put them in the comment field!

Good Luck!

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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