When your child’s sick, all you want is for them to take their medicine so they can start feeling better.
But learning how to take pills isn’t always easy. Says Kelley Norris, a pediatric critical care specialist and the pediatric pharmacy team supervisor, “I have three children who are 13, 14 and 16. The 14-year-old couldn’t swallow pills until he was 9 or 10, but my 16-year-old could when he was 5. So it really varies.”
Desperate parents might try to cut or crush pills to make them easier to get down. But before you do, read on.
Here’s why cutting or crushing pills can be a problem: Some have a special time-release coating allowing them to be absorbed in certain places in the stomach or intestine; if that coating is removed, your child could get the wrong dose. Even worse, the drug could cause damage to the lining of the stomach.
The smartest thing to do is to always check with your pharmacist before you cut or crush a pill. However, if pills are scored, they are often safe to cut in half along that score line: “But it’s best to halve it with an official pill splitter, which gives you the best chance of getting it to be equal portions,” said Norris.
You can sometimes open capsules and sprinkle the beads on food. But, even medication inside capsules is sometimes designed with a time-release coating, so parents have to tell kids to make sure not to chew the beads.
No matter what, parents should always talk to the pharmacist before they try to cut or crush any pill or capsule.
A Few Tricks
If you get the green light to crush a pill or open a capsule, Norris says the best food to sprinkle the medicine on is chocolate pudding.
“Once they’re crushed, they’re really not going to taste good,” she said. “We suggest taking it with a cold substance that masks the taste, and cold chocolate pudding does that. Vanilla also works. Chocolate ice cream or Hershey’s syrup does too.”
Don’t use the old-school choice of applesauce though: “Applesauce often isn’t super sweet on its own, so with the medicine, it tastes terrible.”
If you’re trying to teach a child to swallow a pill, first stay calm to help ease any fears your child might have. Then have them place the pill as far back on the tongue as they can, then drink a lot of water.
If that doesn’t work, try this: When they fill their mouth with water, have them look down at the floor, then tilt their head back and swallow. By looking down, the pill automatically floats up, closer to the back of the throat, making it easier to swallow.
The Liquid Route
The really good news? Most common children’s medications come in liquid form, so your child doesn’t necessarily even have to take a pill.
And if your child doesn’t like the taste of a certain liquid medicine, guess what? Your pharmacist can flavor it.
“Many pharmacies offer Flavorx, in which we can flavor some drugs that taste or smell bad,” said Norris. “Antibiotics for example can have an egg or fish smell, but adding a flavor like grape or bubblegum takes the bitterness out of it.”
Kids often complain that medicine tastes bad, but here’s why education is important, said Norris. “We always want to talk about why taking medicine can help make us healthy, so that kids will eventually understand that medicine equals some positive benefits.”