How To Get Kids To Swallow Pills

It seems like more and more, I’m seeing older children and teenagers, fully adult-sized patients, who refuse to take medication in tablet form.  “I can’t swallow pills.”  “They make me gag.”  “I’m going to choke.”  I talk a lot with parents about how to get kids to swallow pills.

The problem with older kids and adults that won’t take pills is that a ten-day course of antibiotics for an adult can be quite a lot of liquid.  Some medications just aren’t made in a liquid because they aren’t meant for children, and sometimes they can’t be crushed or cut into pieces to make them easier to swallow.

Before we go into how to work with your kids to help them achieve this adult skill, I want to be very clear on how we use words.  I hear “I can’t” a lot, both from patients and parents.  If your child is eating solid food, he or she CAN swallow pills.  It is physically possible to do so.  A single bite of food is MUCH larger than any tablet that is made to be swallowed intact.

So what is the problem?  Your child (and maybe you as well) has bought into a self-limiting belief.  They BELIEVE that they are unable to swallow pills and if they try, something unpleasant will happen.  Maybe they half-swallowed a piece of hard candy once and had a choking sensation that scared them.  Maybe they DID swallow a piece of ice from their drink or a piece of hard food they didn’t chew well, and it hurt a little going down.  Whatever the reason, they firmly believe that swallowing something intact will hurt.

Your job as their parent is to help them prove to themselves that they CAN swallow it and it WON’T hurt.

How do we do that?  Candy to the rescue!  (Yes, you read that right, Dr. Jen is actually advocating you giving candy to your child.  In this instance, though, the candy isn’t candy but a training tool and a necessary evil, LOL!)

Start with a small package of really tiny candies.  Some examples are Tic-Tacs, M&M Minis, and Mini SweeTARTs.  You know your child, what would they like?  It just has to be really small.  Get one small package and tell your child if they are able to swallow the first (insert small number, like 3 or 5 or 10) whole, they can have the rest of the package to eat.  Use milk or juice to wash the candy piece down.  Watch them to make sure they don’t chew them first (and if they do, that’s OK, it just doesn’t count) and apply liberal amounts of praises and atta-boy/girl.

Gradually work up to larger and larger pieces of candy until they are able to swallow pieces as large as an average medicine tablet.  Examples are Skittles, plain M&Ms and Reese’s Pieces.  Once they are able to confidently swallow these, they should be ready for an ibuprofen or acetaminophen tablet in case of a headache or minor injury.  Be sure to use the correct weight-and-age-based dose for your child.

Also, since children’s supplements are usually formulated to be chewable and to taste good, they often contain sweeteners and flavors that really aren’t good for your child.  Not to mention that they are EXPENSIVE!  I recommend to parents that they move their child to a high-quality adult supplement as soon as they are able.

I started my children learning to swallow pills when they were five years old.  The first pill they took was Shaklee’s Optiflora probiotic, which is so tiny that if you drop it, you won’t find it again unless your flooring is really dark:

Shaklee OptiFlora

After the probiotic we moved on to Shaklee’s OmegaGuard which is also small.  (Plug for those of you who don’t like fish oil because they’re horse pills – OmegaGuard is little!)

Shaklee’s OmegaGuard

And now both my boys, at 15 and 10, take Shaklee’s Vitalizer Men.  I laugh when people ask me what I’m feeding my 6’2″ teenager who has sprouted up about 8 inches in the last 2 years.  He’s my Shaklee kid!

Shaklee’s Vitalizer Men

Your child CAN take pills, if he or she is able to swallow solid food.  It is physically possible.  It’s your job to help him or her past the fear and get the confidence to learn this adult skill.  Like so much of parenting, it just takes patience, persistence and lots of positive reinforcement.

They can do it!  And so can you 🙂

QUESTION: How did you help your kids learn to swallow pills?  Do you have a child that can’t or won’t do it yet?

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