Teaching Your Child The Fine Art of Swallowing Pills and Capsules

For any parent, getting children to take their medication can be a frustrating experience. The flavor of a liquid such as Prednisone may be off putting to a child. You worry about spilling liquid medications or dosing accurately. That’s why I find that teaching children as early as possible to swallow a pill or capsule to be a wise idea.

You may wonder “Why worry about teaching my child how to swallow a pill or capsule now?”

First, some medications only come in solid form. To be honest, there aren’t swallow a pill 3many but there are a few.

Second, pills and tablets are much easier to travel with and don’t require refrigeration. Think about toting around that bottle of antibiotic next summer on your trip to the Bahamas. Not fun!

Third, you will never have to worry about spilling or dripping a liquid again. Plus the dosing on a pill is accurate. How many times have you gotten to the bottom of the bottle of liquid medication and not had the full teaspoon?

In my experience, children as young as age 3 or 4 can learn to swallow a pill. I taught my own daughter who was not yet 3 to swallow pills. While a few teens can’t seem to master the skill, children are quick learners and repetition and patience along with some simple tips can help if you start children young.

It’s also a good idea to teach your child these techniques before they really need them. A sick little child is not great student!

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

  • Multi-colored round candy balls called mixed decors found in the cake-decorating section of a supermarket
  • Tic Tacs (I think the fruit flavor works best)
  • Mini M&M’s
  • Reese’s Pieces or M&M’s

THE TECHNIQUE

  • Start with the smallest candy ball from the cake decorating kit. Explain to your child that you are going to teach him a simple way to learn to swallow pills and that it starts with learning to swallow candy balls. (Now is a good time to explain that medication is NOT candy but that you are using candy because it is an easy substitute. Explain that you should NEVER take medicine without permission of Mom or Dad.)
  • Parent should demonstrate by putting a single candy ball as far back on your tongue as possible, use the straw technique, and take three gulps of water.
  • Tell your child it’s their turn. Also tell them that if the candy doesn’t go down the first time, they have to try at least two more times. If it doesn’t go down by the third try, they can chew the candy ball and take a break before trying again.
  • Repeat this until they get comfortable with a candy ball, usually about three successful tries. Then move up to a slightly larger candy (I like to use the bigger cake decorating sprinkles, then move up to mini M&M’s) and repeat the procedure until there is success at this level.
  • After three to five successes with the mini M&M’s, move up to a larger candy like an M&M or Reese’s pieces. After they have mastered that, compare it to a pill size wise. At this point they should be able to swallow most pills with minimum problems.
  • Remember to limit the “session’ to 15 minutes. This will be a Process that requires days, perhaps weeks depending on your child.

SOME TIPS

  • Have your child take a few sips of water before beginning. It is very difficult to swallow a pill or tablet with a dry throat.
  • These tips works best if your child is thirsty. He/She may be drinking quite a bit, practicing their pill swallowing technique.
  • Session should last no more than 15 minutes and be fun.
  • Room should be free from distractions. Leave toys in another room and turn of the television. 
  • Stay calm and positive.
  • Be patient, this is a task that will require some time.
  • Demonstrate pill swallowing to your child in matter of fact way. When they see you do it calmly they will want to emulate you.
  • Use lots of Positive Praise! Avoid negativity. This is not going to motivate your child to learn to swallow pills/tablets.
  • Be consistent.
  • Have your child put the pill on his/her tongue. Then using a straw, suck down three big gulps of water. With a straw there is no pill floating around in your mouth like there is if you just try to swallow a pill with a big mouthful of water.
  • If water isn’t working try milk, a fruit smoothie, Pediasure, a milkshake, or fruit juice or nectar. Thicker fluids create more bulk, making it harder for the pill to separate itself from the fluid during swallowing.
  • Always end with a success. If your child has difficulty swallowing a large piece of candy, end by having him swallow a smaller piece or even a gulp of liquid. Always end on a positive note.
  • When swallowing a pill, have your child tilt their head back slightly. With capsules (which float), you do just the opposite. Have your child look down at the floor and swallow the capsule while still looking downward at the floor. The capsule should just float to the back of his mouth and slide down his throat with his drink.
  • Make sure you have your child place the pill or capsule in the center of their tongue rather than to the right or left, especially if they are going to be swallowing an oval-shaped pill. An oval-shaped pill should be placed so that the length is parallel to their throat. Otherwise, the pill may go into the throat “sideways” and create discomfort.

DON’T

  • Don’t break a tablet in half if it is too large. When you do this the rough edges can be scratchy and even more difficult to swallow than a larger smooth tablet.
  • Don’t take pills with a dry mouth. It’s more difficult to swallow when your mouth is dry, and capsules and tablets may even stick to a dry tongue.
  • Don’t bargain or bribe your child. After all you don’t bargain or bribe your child to brush his or her teeth or comb their hair. This is a skill they WILL learn. It just takes time and patience.

The techniques I shared with you should help you, help your child become proficient at swallowing pills and tablets. This is a skill that is a necessary part of life and when learned early can really be a very handy tool for a child to possess.

Remember to be consistent, patient and use positive praise and these techniques will have your child swallowing pills, tablets and capsules in a reasonably short time!

About the Author

Leslie Mayorga R.N. BSN is a Registered Nurse with an AAS in Nursing and BSN. Her areas of expertise include NICU, Pediatrics, Home Health Care, and Special Education. She is a Child Advocate and worked in conjunction with CPS in New York State. Find her at http://www.leslielovesveggies.net/ is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team

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