How to give medicine and pills to your children

Got a child who struggles to take medication? Don’t worry - we have some expert tips on the best way to give medicine (and pills / capsules for more grown-up kids) to your baby, toddler or slightly older child

Mother giving syrup with syringe to her cute little son

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If your child is very unwell, call your GP surgery, call 111, use the online 111 service or look on the NHS website for advice. For urgent medical help or if your child has symptoms of coronavirus (a fever and/or a new continuous cough), call 111 or use the online 111 service. Call 999 for life-threatening emergencies, if your child has a stiff neck, a seizure or finds it hard to breathe – see other symptoms that mean you should call 999.

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When our children are under the weather, as parents all we want to do is make them feel better. Understandably that often means giving them medicine to help in that process.

But for lots of parents on the MadeforMums forum, the experience of trying to get a baby or child to take medicine can be a really stressful one.

“My toddler kicks and pushes and clamps her mouth shut. We may get a little medicine in but she spits it back out!” says jellyfishpink. “She won’t even lay in our arms and take it. We tried making it a game and that didn’t work and she whacks the spoon away when we try it that way.”

“It’s important to make sure your little one gets their medicine in the right way, and that they get better as soon as possible,” says Dr Diana Gall, GP and doctor at Doctor4U.

“Getting them to take it isn’t always an easy job, though – especially when they’re already feeling under the weather.”

Why is it better to use a syringe for a baby?

Many of our mums have had success administering medicine with a syringe rather than a spoon, especially if the little one is under 12 months old.

“We use a syringe, but do it slowly and in stages, we then give our baby her dummy to suck between mouthfuls to make sure she swallows and can’t spit it out,” says Janeylizzybee

As most medicines for children aged 3 months to 12 years come in liquid form, an oral syringe will generally be provided with them.

“These are usually the best method for giving medication to a baby because they make it easy for you to measure and deliver the correct dose,” says Dr Gall.

How do I use the syringe correctly?

“Make sure your child is upright and aim the syringe at the area between your child’s gums and the inside of their cheek. This will prevent the possibility of the child gagging,” says Dr Gall.

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“Rather than try to inject all the medicine at once, push the plunger bit by bit so that you’re squirting small amounts of the medicine into the side of the mouth. Allow your child to swallow the medicine squirted before giving more.”

What do you do if you can’t get them to use a syringe?

Some parents have found their children refuse medicine from a syringe. “I’ve tried a syringe but she spits it straight back out and gets really worked up,” says Sarah1-46796. So, what do you do if this happens?

“First up, check with your GP or pharmacist to see if the medicine you’re using can be prescribed in a different flavour,” says Dr Gall.

“You could also ask your GP or pharmacist if the medicine you need to administer can be mixed with something your child likes, such as fruit yoghurt or jam, since the sweetness from such things can mask the medicine’s taste,” says Dr Gall.

When should you move your child from using a syringe to a spoon?

There is no hard and fast rules about what age you should start using a spoon to give medicine. It’s more a case of personal preference.

“When my little one was younger I gave it with a syringe but I found it much easier with the spoon,” says Louise_N.

“There’s no specific age which determines when it’s time to switch to a spoon,” confirms Dr Gall. “It is usually much easier to rely on the syringe exclusively when a child is a newborn or infant.

“When a child is a toddler or at an older stage, then it’s worth considering that they switch to a measuring spoon. Taking into account how well a child has responded to taking medicine in the past can clue you in regarding the best time to switch permanently.

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“But if you find it easier, keep using the syringe for quite a few years and that’s unlikely to be an issue. After all, children develop at different rates.”

If you do switch, remember to use a proper medicine spoon rather than any old teaspoon so you accurately measure the dose.

For one mum a reluctant toddler was encouraged to start taking medicine via a spoon.

“if you get an empty yogurt pot and use a spoon and pretend that you are giving them yogurt they open up!” says kyh22.

How do you give a child dispersible medicines?

A dispersible medicine means one that dissolves in water and you can take as a drink. While most common medicines for children come in liquid form your little one may occasionally need to take dispersible medicines.

“You can potentially add things with sweet flavours into the mix such as fruit juice, apple sauce or yogurt. This could be a good way of getting your child to take their medicine if they dislike the taste,” says Dr Gall.

“You should consult a pharmacist about what things can be mixed with the dispersible tablets you have. If you want to mix such tablets with something besides water, avoid using milk or fizzy water.”

My child’s older and has to take pills sometimes – how do we do that?

Finally if you have much older children you may find that you have to give them medicine in a capsule when the medication isn’t available in liquid form. And this can feel really daunting for a child.

“It can really help if you are positive as the parent,” says Dr Gall. “It can help put a child at ease, whereas any negative vibes and emotions they pick up could make them more nervous and make the process more difficult.”

“Tell them to put the tablet on their tongue towards the back of their mouth and then drink some water to help them swallow,” says Dr Gall. “It can feel daunting so talk them through it and supervise them as many times as they need.”

Woman helping young girl take medicine in bedroom

And of course when all else fails there is the incentive of a favourite treat to encourage them!

If you’re really struggling you could consider using a tablet crusher to make things easier. Check with your pharmacist to see if the tablets that are being taken can be crushed.

Also remember there’s sometimes an option to get a chewable tablet which your child may like more, especially as they usually come in a flavour like orange or strawberry.

“Just remember that if you are ever in doubt about how to administer or mix medication, all the information you need should be included in the patient information leaflet provided,” says Dr Gall. Or do consult a pharmacist for further clarification if you’re still unsure.

Pics: Getty

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