How To Teach Your Child To Swallow A Pill, And What To Do If They're Too Scared

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How To Swallow A Pill
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As much as we would love for Mary Poppins to be right, sometimes “just a spoonful of sugar” doesn’t help the medicine go down. The expression “it’s a hard a pill a swallow” isn’t just a metaphor when it comes to teaching your kid how to swallow a pill — it’s real life. Getting kids to take medicine is a challenge for most of us parents.

While taking medications this way isn’t the most pleasurable experience, it’s certainly an important skill to have. Some medications are best taken as a pill or tablet. Moreover, some pills are meant to be swallowed whole and should never be crushed or chewed. That could be dangerous or prevent them from working as they should. So, how do you teach your kid to swallow a pill? Here are some helpful tips (without the spoonful of sugar).

RELATED: What Parents Need To Know About Negative Reinforcement

How to Take Pills

Before kids swallow their first pill, it might be a good idea to remind them of other skills they completed even when challenging, like riding a bike or cutting up their own food. You might also want to explain why taking medicine is so important and good for them. Don’t scare them about the risks of not taking the pill but, rather, reinforce all the medicine’s benefits. Another idea is you being the example and showing your little one how you do it. That way, they can see for themselves how to do it while also observing that it’s not as scary as they might think it is.

To swallow a pill, kids should:

  • Sit up straight with their head centered.
  • Tilt their head back only a bit (too far back, and it’s harder to swallow).
  • Take a few sips of water to warm up their swallowing skills.
  • Then keep a little bit of water in their mouth.
  • Put the pill on their tongue and then drink more water to swallow.

If that doesn’t work, you might be able to try a few little tricks to help your child.

  • Swallow the pill with a thicker beverage like a smoothie or milkshake.
  • Put it in thick, tasty food like apple sauce, ice cream, or pudding so they can swallow it whole (and enjoy it).
  • Grind it into a powder and add it to a healthy soft snack like yogurt or apple sauce.
  • Use a pill splitter on it and swallow the smaller pieces one by one.

It’s imperative to make sure you ask your pharmacist or doctor if it’s okay to cut or grind a medication. Timed-release or enteric-coated medicines should not be broken apart.

What age should a child be able to swallow a pill?

The best age for your child to begin swallowing pills is about four years old. Before you give them tablets to swallow, let them practice with chocolate chips or cake sprinkles. At this age, you can teach kids what it means to swallow a pill. Make sure you practice this when there are no distractions.

How to Swallow a Pill If You’re Scared

It’s quite common for kids to be nervous about swallowing pills. In fact, many people have a phobia or other reason pill-swallowing is problematic. So, if you’re wondering how to swallow a pill if you’re scared (or if your child is), keep reading. But first, let’s go over a few possible reasons your little one might be reticent.

  • For some, it is the result of a condition called dysphagia — the medical term for difficulty swallowing. Dysphagia can include pills, foods, and liquids. People with dysphagia can often choke or cough when swallowing.
  • For others, a fear of swallowing pills is a result of a mental block. Maybe they’ve had a bad experience with swallowing and are having trouble getting over the negative memory. Phobia of swallowing pills is different from pharmacophobia, which is the fear of taking medication. Those with pharmacophobia exhibit concerns around unwanted side effects of the medicine, which often results in a flat-out refusal to take it or give it (if the one with pharmacophobia is the parent).
  • Some children might be very anxious about new medicines and/or new experiences.
  • Others might have a gag reflex that causes them to spit the pill back up or even vomit when trying to swallow a pill. Can you blame them for not wanting a repeat experience?
  • Pill swallowing might also be very difficult for children with developmental delays and oral-motor issues.

For kids with these issues, it may be wise to seek advice from a pediatrician. While most kids will eventually learn how to swallow a pill, other children might need a bit more coaxing, coaching, or even professional guidance.

How to Get Rid Of Your Gag Reflex to Make Swallowing a Pill Easier

Sometimes swallowing a pill makes you want to upchuck everything in your belly. So, to get rid of that urge to purge follow these tips and this video below.

  • Desensitize your gag reflex by brushing the area of your tongue that makes you feel like puking for 15 seconds. Do this once a day and eventually, the compulsion to gag will subside.
  • Bring on the salt! To temporarily get rid of your gag reflex, put salt on your tongue.
  • You can also try temporal massages which is when you tap the front of your ear in a small circle. Then do the same to the back of your ear. The tapping stimulates your vestibular system, which eases nausea, dizziness and suppresses your gag reflex.
  • Acupuncture is a helpful way to suppress your urge to gag. Close your left hand over your thumb and make a fist. Squeeze your hand for about five seconds. After that, take your right pointer finger and press it against your chin for another five seconds. Then squeeze the skin between your left pointer finger and thumb and hold it for five seconds.

How to Get a Toddler to Take Medicine

Toddlers aren’t fans of much they don’t want to do, including swallowing pills. To help your toddler take their medicine, you might want to try the following.

  • Be as positive as possible. When you’re happy and excited about what your child is doing — including taking their medicine — they will pick up on the positive vibe and have an easier time doing it.
  • Try a different delivery. If you can administer the medicine in a syringe or liquid form, opt for those options. They’re typically a better (and easier) choice for a child. If not, try a pill swallowing cup — a professional healthcare product created to make swallowing pills easier. The cup design assists the natural swallowing reflex and prevents pills from sticking in your throat or to the cup.
  • Follow with a treat. This can be as simple as handing your kid a cookie or a cracker, but a little bit of positive reinforcement goes a long way.

*Don’t be afraid to call your doctor about suggestions they may have. They might know alternatives to medicine that tastes better or don’t have to be taken daily. You’ll never know until you ask. Also, keep in mind that not all medicines can be mixed with liquids, so ask your pharmacist or doctor beforehand.

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