Learning to swallow a pill: Tips for your child to become a pro

When the time comes to have your child take medicine, one of the first questions parents ask is, “Is it available as a liquid or is it a pill?”

The thought of having a child swallow a pill for the first time can be daunting.

That’s why you should not wait until your child needs to take medicine before you practice, says Dr. Kristen Stuppy (www.questforhealthkc.com).

Dr. Stuppy has a lot of great tips on her blog post: Pill Swallowing Tips. When I first read it, I thought it would make great content for a family-friendly handout because it is so full of great practical tips, but also since I encounter this question a lot. Plus, it couldn’t have been at a better time as we are actively working with my daughter now to learn how to swallow pills…we’re getting there! So with her permission, I adapted the content and created a new handout.

You can download the handout by clicking here.

When is the “right” age to start practicing with your child? In my opinion, anytime between 5 and 6 years of age. However, it may also depend on your child’s eagerness to please.

Before you start, make sure you review medicine safety with your child. Talk to them about never helping themselves to medicine without adult supervision. Medicine is not candy even though candy is usually used to practice.

The key to teaching your child how to swallow a pill is to do it when the stakes are low. Do it when the child is relaxed and is not sick. I love Dr. Stuppy’s suggestion about using cake decorating items in various sizes–starting small and then increasing to an actual tic tac, which is the size of most medicines. Once kids learn the mechanics of pill swallowing, they should be able to swallow most pills regardless of the size.

These are the ones we’re using in our house!

Parents can ask the doctor or pharmacist about whether the medicine comes in liquid, pill or capsule. A popular method is hiding the medicine in food. Some tablets can be cut into smaller pieces with a pill cutter before mixing into food.  Often times, capsules can be opened and sprinkled into food such as a spoonful of applesauce, yogurt, ice cream or my favorite, Hershey’s chocolate syrup. (Who doesn’t like chocolate?) However, be aware that some capsules, like Concerta, which is a medicine for ADHD and also a form of Methylphenidate cannot be opened due to how it is made. Some medicines just have a really bitter taste and it won’t matter what form the medicine takes, it is just bad. If hiding the medicine in food doesn’t work to hide the taste, you can always have your child pinch their nose.

Keep practice sessions upbeat and no longer than 15 minutes. And be sure to end the session on the size your child can show you a successful swallow!

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