3 Tricks To Help Your Child Swallow Pills

3 Tricks To Help Your Child Swallow Pills

Getting a child to comply with taking cancer medication can be a bit tricky. She might not like the side effects, or it might leave a funny taste in her mouth.

But sometimes, she may be more than willing to comply—but she just can’t swallow those pills.

She’s not alone. According to a May 2015 study from the journal Pediatrics, more than 50% of children cannot swallow a small capsule or standard-sized pill.

Teaching a child to swallow a pill isn’t always easy, but it’s very important—your child needs to take her medication, on time, to have the best chance of fighting cancer.

Here are 3 ways to make the prospect of pills a little easier to swallow.

1. Start With Small Pills.

Pill-swallowing may be something that your child needs to ease into slowly. If he’s been given large pills, find out if there is a smaller version of the same medication. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that pharmacies do not always give children the smallest pill manufactured.

If a smaller pill is available—and your child’s insurance will cover that brand—ask the pharmacist if you can order the smaller pills. Or, check around with other pharmacies to see if they carry that brand.

You might also be able to turn a big pill into a small one with a pill cutter. However, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warns that there are risks involved.

For example, some pills are time-release capsules—they’re coated with a substance that releases the medicine slowly. Cutting a pill in half destroys that coating, and your child could absorb the medicine too fast, or not at all.

Always check with the pharmacist before splitting your child’s pill into two.

2. Build Up His Confidence.

According to a September 2015 article in the New York Times, your child might be having trouble swallowing pills because he’s scared he will choke.

One way to combat this is to reassure him that he won’t choke—by proving it to him. The KC Kids Doc blog recommends these 5 steps to teach your child that he is capable of swallowing pills.

  1. Have your child practice guzzling down a drink—taking big gulps. You can use water, but he might enjoy it more if he gets to have juice or a sports drink.
  2. Give him a single Nerd candy to place on the back of his tongue. Have him gulp the drink, washing the Nerd down with it. This will give him confidence that he can swallow something whole without choking.
  3. Move on to a Red Hot or Tic Tac.
  4. Repeat with a Smartie.
  5. Repeat with a Skittle.

At this point, your child should be ready—and confident enough—to swallow his pills.

3. Take It From Mary Poppins.

It’s not generally the best practice to load a child up with sugar. But when the goal is getting a kid to swallow a pill, a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.

Sneak small pills into treats like pudding, applesauce, yogurt, or ice cream. The smooth texture might make it easier for the pills to slide down your child’s throat.

You may be able to make it even easier by crushing the pills before adding them to the food, but make sure you check with the pharmacist first.

According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, crushing certain pills can have the same risks as splitting them. For example, crushing time-release pills removes the coating, causing your child to absorb too much medication at once.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Anisa Hoie
I've been a nurse for nearly 32 years, mostly taking care of kids with cancer. My job is to give the kids and their families a personal touch while they go through treatment.

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