How to Get Medicine into Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews

4-year-old will not take medicine

Sept 2004

Hi, My son who is turning 4 on Halloween has become very independent and strong willed. He will not take any form of liquid medicine, it all tastes bad anyway so I really can't blame him. When he was about 2 it was no problem. He has had wingworm in his scalp before and it was imperative that i gave him his medicine, I even had his doctor to prescribe the RX in pill form. He still detected the crushed pill in foods. I have almost given up but i know i have to find a way to get him to take medicine in the future, please give your advice or experiences. Thanks kat

While I generally stay away from bribes, I've stooped to using them when my child had to do something really unpleasant (for a short time - like a course of yucky meds). What worked for us once was: wash down every dose with chocolate milk (considered a real treat in our house), get a star/sticker if it's taken without TOO much fuss, and a small pre-agreed reward (toy, treat, outing) at the end of it all. (Do allow for some fussing anyway - there has to still be the prize at the end). anon.

Getting 18-mo old to take medicine

September 2002

My 18-mo old daughter is not sick very often, but when she is, my husband and I find it almost impossible to get her to take any medicine. I have tried different brands and flavors, but she doesn't like any of them. She's about the least picky eater I've ever known (next to my husband), but she seems to have a real aversion to the taste of medicine. I've tried mixing it into juice, milk and water, but the only way she'd drink it was if it was so diluted that the medicine taste was almost non- existent. (She'll spit it out otherwise or refuse to drink it.) The problem is that she'd have to drink an entire glass of juice, etc. to get all the medicine, and she doesn't typically drink that much all at once. I've also tried mixing the medicine into food, with very little success. The only thing that's worked so far is mixing the medicine into pudding. But again, I had to dilute it a lot, and how much pudding can you eat? As I said, my daughter has only had maybe a half dozen colds ever, but there have been a few times (last night, for example) when she was so miserable and I know medicine would make her feel better. I just can't get her to take it. I can't even tell you how much medicine I've wasted, and I'm running out of ideas. Do I just give up and watch her suffer through colds, etc.? I'd love to hear what's worked for you! Kathryn

If your child is still using a pacifier, there are pacifier medicine dispensers that may work. When my son was about the same age we had a terrible time getting him to take any medicine. Out of desperation we tried the pacifier dispenser even though I thought he was too old for such a trick, but it worked. No more fights, he just sucked the medicine right down. Julie
At least for fever medicine, I gave up on the whole dropper thing and on the advice of someone at my then 10-month old's physician's office, I started using suppositories. She would spit out or throw up the fever medicine from the dropper, but using what i call ''butt pellets'' is incredibly easy. Even now at 20 months she doesn't even notice them going in, and they work very very quickly. The brand is Feverall and they have a dosage up to 18 months and then a higher one for 36 months. It's the same stuff in Tylenol--I don't know what there is for other medicine. lynne
Cold medicine: look for chewable tablets for children. We just tried this with our 18-month old and it totally works. Triaminic children's chewable. Ask your doc first. He popped it right in his mouth where it immediately dissolved. Before, we'd tip his head back, restrain his arms, force the plastic hypo into his cheek pocket (because his teeth were clenched tight) and shoot it in there. He would either gag or spew it all back out. The chewables are INCREDIBLE! a mom
I'm probably going to catch some flak here, but my older son wasn't great about taking medicine until about the age of 2 (the jury's still out on the baby but he looks to be much the same way), and we basically forced it down him. It was much easier if it was a 2-parent operation. One of us held him, usually in our lap, with his arms pinned so that he couldn't hit the medicine dropper away, and the other parent stuck a finger in his mouth so that the dropper could be inserted. We found that the dropper had to stay in his mouth until the medicine had been swallowed, to prevent him from spitting it out. After the ordeal, we snuggled him to make him feel better, and did the medicating as fast as we could, but it usually meant tears. Not nearly as many tears, however, as when he didn't get medicine and stayed sick longer. Sometimes unpleasant stuff has to happen for their own good, I guess. Wendy
Have you tried Dr. Sears' favorite method? You make a ''cheek pocket'' by pulling back one cheek and deposit the medicine a small amount at a time into the cheek pocket. It runs down the side of the mouth so the child can't spit it out and it avoids most of the tongue so he or she don't taste much of it. You can buy big medicine droppers in most drugstores marked in teaspoons or whatever you need. Stephanie

Tylenol makes baby throw up

May 2002

Ever since she was a newborn, our now 8-month-old daughter has thrown up whenever we give her infant Tylenol drops. (Not an allergic reaction; she just hates the taste, and having the Tylenol in her mouth seems to cause a very strong gag reflex.) Does anyone have suggestions as to how we can get her to take her medicine and keep it down? If so, thanks! Gretchen

I had the same problem with my 2 girls until I went to France for the summer and discover that most of the medicine for infant are given through the form of suppositories . You are sure to give the right dose and besides some pooping (that can happen) it is in ! :-) The Tylenol molecule is available in the suppository form at any pharmacy. You can also try to hide the Tylenol drops in yogurt, fruit sauce of milk. Good luck ! valerie
You should try Baby- or Infant- Motrin (Ibuprofen). It is also a fever reducer/pain reliever and works much better ( at least for my kids). Good Luck! bine
I highly recommend using suppositories. They work really fast and are terrific when your child has a high fever and can't keep anything down. Lucy
My son has the same problem. The solution we found when he had a fever last year was acetomiphen suppositories. He doesn't like it, but at least he can't get it out of his system. And speaking of suppositories, I discovered (when my husband and I had the same flu a few days later) that there are prescription suppositories for adults that stop you from vomiting. Never thought I'd WANT a suppository, but it really worked. Hannah
My youngest was like this, and I tried various things none of which worked very well. (But she learned to swallow tablets at the age of 8!) The things my physician suggested and I tried were mixing the contents of capsules with food (not terribly effective because she didn't want to eat when she was sick) putting syrup in pedialyte or juice (worked once or twice --its hard to get it concentrated enough for a young one to get a full dose of medication in the limited amount she would drink), and teaching her to eat chewable tablets as soon as she had teeth (but then only grape-flavored one, and if she was sick enough to be even mildly nauseous by the time we administered them they'd come right back up). Sometimes reducing the fever with a tepid bath would make her feel better enough to keep the medication down.

You might also ask your physician about suppositories. I know these are now available for ibuprofen, and it seems likely they's be available for acetominophen.

What worked best for me was focussing on the idea that fevers are an appropriate bodily response to infection and that only really high ones really need aggressive treatment. (And even those can be relieved temporarily by a tepid bath.) Chris

Find out if your baby is old enough for tylenol suppositories (probably is, since she is old enough to take tylenol). I think they are readily available. They may have to be refrigerated. Ask your pediatrician about the dosage. We got these when our baby had a throwing-up virus - we haven't had to use them yet, but they seem like a great idea. anon
My son and my nephews had the same reaction to cherry and orange flavored tylenol, but had no problem downing the grape stuff. You might try experimenting with the different flavors. CJ
There are several brands of liquid Acetaminophen. Another brand with a different flavor might work better for her. Liz
Gretchen, Babies can detect 248 different tastes and their tongues give them good information. If a child is throwing up something, it certainly is an sign of incompatibility in my book. Is there a recurring reason that you have been needing to give tylenol several times over such a short period? What might be the underlying cause of her illness/discomfort? In functional medicine testing, tylenol is used as a provocative agent to determine liver detoxification capability. For an excellent resource on helping children feel better without drug intervention, Janet Zand's book SMART MEDICINE FOR A HEALTHIER CHILD, is excellent. It is available in paperback and not very expensive. Good luck! Nori
You may have already tried this, but...when our son hated the taste of the Tylenol we gave him, a pediatrician friend said to try some of the other flavors. Worked like a charm! (Cherry is his favorite.) Kathy
You could try infant Advil or Motrin. Kim
If I might be so bold, why does your baby *need* Tylenol? Would it not be possible to use something else to meet your needs? kathy
I never know if you'll get many responses or few, but probably others will let you know that Tylenol suppositories may be an option. Not fun, but effective for the child who throws up. Check with your doctor re:dosage. Also it is not easy to find but - as I recall - I found it at the Long's in Berkeley after looking at several drugstores. I'd call around before going out to get it. marie k
I believe Tylenol makes a suppository for babies/infants--my friend has used it when her child threw up the liquid Tylenol. (It is also possible that it is made by another company with a different brand name). It is difficult to find, for some reason, so I'd call around to local pharmacies and drug stores to see who carries it. Christine
There's an alternative to Tylenol by mouth; it's called FeverAll, and it's an acetaminophen (the same medicine as Tylenol) suppository. It comes in strengths small enough for infants. Just a little lubricant (e.g. Vaseline), up the bottom, and that's it. BTW, my five-year-old NEVER liked liquid medications, so I gave her a pill (Advil, it's candy-coated), and that's all she'll take now. margery
My daughter also throws up with medication...she cannot stand the taste, gets mad and spits it out...or throws it up (more in the pre-verbal stage). We end up not using it by and large, using lukewarm baths to bring down fever, and homeopathic remedies to treat ear infections.

I have been successful in force-feeding pedialite, and then only by doing VERY low amounts repeatedly. Not fun. Bribing with candy (she's 4.5) works for the occasional dose of medication, but spotty.

Most of the time, you can get away without medication, it's just a lot harder. Then again, trying force medication on a child is hard too. She has very sensitive sense of taste & smell and I think she just can't stand it. meg

Have you tried rectal suppositories containing acetaminophen? They are available in various dosages (80mg, 120 mg and 320 mg). A few years ago, I also tried acetaminophen ''sprinkle caps'' which had no taste and dissolved in any liquid. I believe they are no longer available. But you might check with a pharmacist. Mija

3-year-old refuses medicine

November 2001

I have a 3+ year old daughter who often refuses to accept any medicine. She appears to refuse to take it just on principle (sounds funny with regards to a 3 year old, but seems that way). She took children's benadryl a couple of times, saying she liked it and wanted more. But a day later she refused it. And she refuses tylenol and antibiotics also. She refuses to take them even if they are given with ice cream (her favorite food), candy or anything else. She appears to understand that we and the doctor all say she needs to take it to get better. And she definitely remembers that she has taken them all in the past with no bad effects or discomfort. We realize this is a manifestation of her general strong-willed nature, and also a reflection of a desire to exert control. She has even thrown up when medicine is forced into her mouth (something we tried once on the advice of a doctor). We are at our wit's end about what to do because if she really needs medicine at some point (such as antibiotics) it would be a difficult situation. And even now, as she has a virus, she would really benefit from some medicine (tylenol when the temperature is 104). It seems almost like a psychological problem. Any advice? Thanks, Ken

Have you tried putting it in juice? It doesn't work all of the time for my kids, but hey I take what I can get! Good Luck! : ) Nacole
Have you tried mixing liquid medicine with chocolate syrup? It was very difficult to give my son medicine until I started mixing it with some Hershey's syrup. If your daughter doesn't like the taste of medicine, the chocolate masks it pretty well. If she resists the very concept of medicine, you can just tell her that you're giving her some chocolate and not mention that there's medicine in there too. When I first tried using chocolate syrup with my son, I didn't tell him that there was medicine mixed in. He eventually figured it out, and now when he's sick he knows that he gets chocolate medicine, and he doesn't mind it a bit. Margaret
Oh I know how it is! If you have a strong willed and sensitive girl like mine, you can't mix the medicine into drinks or food. Of course they taste the difference - that's why they are selective eaters to begin with. The point is that the medicine tastes yucky to her and that you care so much about her taking it. Both reasons work against you. What worked for us? For antibiotics have Zithromax prescribed (once a day for five days only) and have it administered in pre-school. My daughter took it without any complaints from the pre-school director when it was time for children to take their prescribed medicines. You'll feel like a failure when you hear how easy they take it from someone else, but you'll get over it - it's developmental. As far as Tylenol for high fever goes, I have learned fast not to sweat over low grade fevers and let my daughter be the judge. At 104F she is either so uncomfortable that she will actually take it once or I threaten to bring her to the emergeny room at a hospital where medical staff she has never seen before would be giving it to her. That always worked. Not instantly, but when she saw me prepare her bag and get my shoes on, she always took the medicine - with daddy, while I'm not in the room. Big praise for the good decision. Now at 4.5 years, she took Zithromax for strep throat at home without a problem and without any incentives. Tylenol or cold medicine she will take in the evening if the symptoms bother her enough that she anticipates having a harder time sleeping. So, there is hope at the end of the tunnel. (However, I am not sure how we can get her to accept the shots for kindergarten that are due before the fall). And someone smart invented medicated lollipops for sore throats. What a winner! I do keep them locked in the medicine cabinet and told my daughter that they are medicated. Was fine with her, since we don't have candy around - just chocolate. Maybe someone can put Tylenol into different flavored yummy tasting gummibears? I'm waiting.....! Anonymous
My son also refused medicine, throwing it up, etc. Finally our doctor recommended putting it in chocolate milk, which for some reason has worked. He really likes chocolate milk and if the chocolate is strong enough, it seems to hide the taste of medicine. Good Luck. Leslie
We give our 3-year-old his medicines using a small syringe (5 ml), which we can squirt directly into the corner of his mouth a little at a time (rather than by spoon or cup), and we always have medicine time on our laps, with a fun book for distraction. It works really well, even if he needs multiple syringes full of medicine. Good luck. Amy
My son refused medication, also on principle, at that age. Finally I resorted to mixing it with chocolate syrup, without telling him it was medicine, and it was a bit easier to get him to take it. Jennifer
We had the same problem with our 2 1/2 year old last year. We tried different methods, chewable, syrup, mixing with food. Nothing worked. Then our doctor told us to try a suppository which you'd think would be worse, but he was okay with it (we called it a tushie treat -- a little weird, but whatever works!) When he needed antibiotics, we had to bring him in to Children's to get a one time shot. He was mad for a minute, but it cleared up the infection immediately and we didn't have to struggle with ten days of trying to force meds on him. Good luck!
You might try asking your doctor for pills instead of liquid. My son was the type we had to hold down and squirt the medicine into the back of his mouth with a syringe, him kicking and screaming all the while. But to our surprise he readily accepted pills and swallowed them right down, I think because it seemed more grown-up to him and also it put him in control instead of us.
Just wanted to pass along this tip to other parents: Recently my son was perscribed some medicine which only came in pill form. He had never swallowed a whole pill before and the bitter taste made chewing the pill unbearable. My husband came up with the idea of inserting the pill (broken in half) into red vine licorice (which my son likes) by cutting a small sections of the vine, opening the ends and shoving the pill inside. Works like a charm! My son was able to finish off the 6 weeks perscribed medicine with no fuss or mess. Whew! Marie

Giving eyedrops to kids

From: Becky (1/99)

A trick I was told when having to give eyedrops to a child was to place the drop in the corner of the eye (nearest the nose) while the child is lying down with his or her eyes CLOSED. Then, when the child opens his/her eyes--voila!--the drop falls right in.