Recently we faced a dilemma. Audrey had a terrible earache and fever. Unfortunately we were meeting her grandmother for a hand off. Audrey and Ethan were staying with grandma for the evening while Jeff and I went to a professional dinner. We did not have any liquid ibuprofen or acetaminophen handy. All I had was a 200mg caplet of Ibuprofen. Knowing Audrey’s medicine dosing I knew that I could safely give her ½ of the caplet, so we broke it in half. First we tried having her swallow the pill with water… no luck. Next I tried placing the caplet piece in a spoonful of yogurt… again, failure. Then Jeff came up with the game, “Guess which spoonful has the piece of medicine?” This game was a brilliant success! Audrey swallowed the pill during her second spoonful of yogurt without even realizing it.
Now, I do not necessarily recommend the above scenario. However, as all parents of school age children realize, there comes a time in your child’s life where they need to learn to swallow pills. I have seen children as young as 6 or 7 successfully swallow pills regularly and I have had numerous teenagers request liquid medicine because they cannot swallow pills. The following advice is for children who do not have swallowing dysfunction. I have taken tips from an educational website pillswallowing.com referred to by a developmental pediatrician I have heard speak. Please check out the website for more ideas and techniques.
6 tips to help your child learn to swallow pills
1.) Identify if your child is ready to swallow pills. Can they swallow textured foods without gagging?
2.) Choose small cake decorating candies, ie dots, sprinkles, and increase size of candies as tolerated. As your child masters one size with multiple successful attempts then increase the size of the candy. The goal larger size should be a mini-M&M or Tic-Tac.
3.) Place the “pill” in the center of the tongue and have the child swallow it back with a drink or 2 of fluids.
4.) Offer plenty of reassurance and praise.
5.) Practice the techniques before you actually need your child to swallow a pill.
6.) If at first you do not succeed after a few attempts, wait and try again in a few months.
I feel that pill swallowing is important because it increases the options of medications that I as a prescriber have to offer. After a certain age some insurance companies are very resistant to cover liquid medications. Eventually the volume of medication needed to take in liquid form is so high that I fear the patient will have difficulty complying with the medication, especially when the medicine needs to be taken more than once a day. And also, there are a lot of medications that simply taste terrible. Pill swallowing is another step of empowering your child into becoming an independent young adult.
By: Melissa King, DO “Dr. Mom Sqaud”
Dr. King is a general pediatrician in the Children’s Health Clinic at Dayton Children’s and the mother of two kids. As part of the “Dr. Mom Sqaud,” Dr. King blogs about her experiences as both as doctor and a mom and hopes to share insight to other parents on issues related to both parenting and kids health. Learn more about Dr. King!