medications, easier to swallow

Spoonful Of Sugar: Making Medications Easier To Swallow For Kids With Cancer

Three-year-old John, a child recovering from cancer, is splayed out on the floor of his bedroom, kicking and screaming. He doesn’t want to go to bed, but that’s the least of his problems. He really, really doesn’t want to take his medicine—again.

The liquid one he has to take every morning when he wakes up and every night before bed tastes gross. And those pills every eight hours—it’s a struggle to even swallow those.

There’s no peace in this bedtime routine. There’s no snuggling up under a blanket to read a book, no soft music playing as the lights dim.

Instead, there’s John on the floor screaming until he’s red in the face, while his mom and dad stare at each other, feeling at a loss for how to even approach this.

For many parents, this is a nightmare scenario they face every single day. I’ve seen parents try just about every possible approach to get their kids to take medications and make them easier to swallow, but every kid is different.

Some 2-year-olds learn to swallow pills because their parents have tried crushing them up or dissolving them in liquids. The kids don’t like the taste and find enough motivation from that to swallow the pills.

Something will eventually work for your child. It’s your job as parents to keep calm and figure out exactly what that is.

Why Taking Medication On Time Is Critical

The fact is your child needs these medications in order to survive. Compliance—taking the right medications at the right times—is everything.

And if medication time turns into a battle—as it did for John and his parents in the scenario above—it will become very, very difficult to continue to be compliant.

I know. As parents, you don’t want to fight with your kids or see them upset.

But you risk doing whatever you can to appease them in that moment. He’s already been through so much, you may think it’s okay for him to skip taking his pill just this once.

That’s dangerous territory. If your child isn’t getting his medications, the success of his therapy is being compromised.

So parents, my advice to you—above all else—is to stay strong and don’t give in. Because if you give in once, your kid sees that weakness and knows you’ll probably cave again.

A Spoonful Of Sugar …

Instead of giving in, get creative.

medications, easier to swallow

Set up a calendar with stickers for each successful day of medication. Kids are very visual, and this is a great way to motivate them and display how well they’re doing for everyone in the family to see.

After a certain number of stickers, she could get a prize: a new book, toy, or extra hour of computer time. Or maybe every Friday—after a week of successful pill swallowing—you let her choose where the family goes out to dinner that night.

By that same token, maybe you withhold an activity—a favorite video game or TV show, for example—until your child takes her medication.

Mastering The Method

As far as techniques for making it easier to swallow a pill, I’ve seen parents crush medications and mix them into applesauce, pudding, or even root beer, which tastes strong and is frequently successful.

But check with your pharmacist first to make sure the medication isn’t a timed-release tablet, and that crushing it won’t harm its effects or hurt your child in any way.

I’ve seen parents wrap pills up in fruit roll-ups. Some let their kids chew the pills and then immediately give them chocolate chips afterward to wash away the taste. Or if your child is practicing swallowing pills, you could start with M&Ms and then move on to the pills.

Just remember that whatever food you choose to use with the medications will be a food your child forever associates with taking medicine. He may never want to eat that specific food again, so be careful.

I’m confident that your family will figure out a system that works for you. But if you have trouble along the way, call on resources at your hospital.

Nurses and child life specialists do a really good job of coming up with creative ways based around your child’s unique personality.

Make him feel like a champ for taking his medicine, and you’ll be well on your way to success.

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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