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Giving Your Toddler Medicine

Find tips on how to properly and safely give medication to your sick child.

Giving Your Toddler Medicine


Children should never be given aspirin because it increases their risk of contracting Reye's Syndrome—a potentially life-threatening condition.


To keep track of when and how much medicine you have given your toddler, prepare a chart or a list of the times when you give him medication. That way, you'll never have to worry if you gave your toddler his midday dose. If you are sharing medicine—giving duties with your partner or another caregiver, a chart can make it easier to coordinate your efforts. A chart also comes in handy if your child requires two or more medications that need to be taken on different schedules.


Don't overreact to fever. Fever is actually a good thing, since it fights infections and bacterial growth. So don't feel obligated to give your child acetaminophen just because your child has a temperature of 100 degrees. Unless accompanied by discomfort (or shakes, chills, or cold sweats), a low-grade fever (under 102 degrees) does not necessarily need to be treated at all.

No matter what ails your child, you should avoid giving him any medication until you have sought the advice of your pediatrician. When your child does get sick, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics (which fight disease-causing bacteria) or other drugs which will help relieve symptoms and make your child more comfortable. Always check with your doctor's office not only regarding prescription drugs, but also for recommendations on acetaminophen and other pain relievers, cough syrups, or over-the-counter medications. Also consult your doctor before giving your child any medicine (for example, cough syrup) that may be left over from a previous illness.

With any medication, you should take care to give it to your child according to the directions of your doctor and pharmacist. Make a point of asking your doctor whether you can fit three or four daily doses of medication into your child's waking hours (first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and one or two spaced evenly in the course of the day).

With most medications, this schedule will be fine. But with a few, your doctor may insist that you maintain a strict schedule (every six or eight hours) to keep the level of medication in his bloodstream constant. (This probably means you'll need to wake your baby in the middle of the night for one dose.)

If your pediatrician has prescribed antibiotics, you must make a point of giving all of the medicine exactly as prescribed. Don't stop or stray from the medication schedule just because your child seems better (or because he doesn't like taking it). You may have eased the symptoms without finishing off the cause of the illness. If, after two or three days, you see little or no improvement, let your doctor know at once. Your child's illness may need to be reevaluated.

Believe it or not, some toddlers don't like to take medicine. Fortunately, you can take advantage of certain tricks of the trade to help convince your child to take his medicine:

  • When the time comes to give your toddler medicine, you might find it easiest if he sits in your lap. (Never give your child medicine while he's lying on his back, as this can cause him to choke.)
  • Place the end of the syringe in a corner of your child's mouth. Aim the medicine inside the cheek, not in the front, where it can dribble out—or be spat out—and not way back in the throat, where it might cause your child to gag or choke.
  • With older toddlers, you can try using a medicine spoon or medicine cup. However, we would recommend a syringe from the start. The calibration on syringes is much more consistent than that on medicine cups and spoons. In addition, spoons and cups make it easier for your child to spit the medicine out. Besides, most kids think it's fun to use a syringe—not just for medicine, but for juice and water, too.
  • Don't start with apologies. Be straightforward and act as if you expect your child to take the medicine without question. If you raise doubts, you may unwittingly convince your toddler that he should resist.
  • Have a glass of his favorite drink ready to wash away the nasty taste of the medicine.
  • Mix the medicine with a spoonful of applesauce. Don't try to deceive your child by telling him it's just applesauce. One taste and he'll know you lied. Instead, tell him it will help make the medicine taste a little better. (Stick with just a spoonful of applesauce. The more applesauce you use, the more your child will have to eat to ensure that he takes all his medicine.)
  • Pretend to give the medicine to a favorite stuffed animal first.
  • Offer a reward for cooperation, something special—a favorite food, a favorite game, or a favorite book.
  • If your child still won't open his mouth, you may have to hold his nose. Not only will this force your toddler to open his mouth, it also will minimize his ability to taste the medicine. Tell your child about this benefit.
  • Switch to chewable pills or capsules. Many children can take these even during the first year.

If your child won't take pills or capsules:

  • Crush the pills into a powder and stir the powder into a spoonful of applesauce.
  • Sink a pill inside a small, overripe piece of banana and ask your toddler to swallow it without chewing.
  • Wet the capsule to make it easier for your child to slide it down his throat.

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