Swallowing pills, be they vitamins or medicine, is a learned skill—and one that kids don’t necessarily take to naturally. Here’s how to help your child learn to take medicine by practicing with candy.
Why teach your child how to swallow pills? While chatting with my child’s pediatrician, I was surprised to learn that she frequently prescribed medicine in liquid form, even for high school age patients. She said lots of kids, even older kids, couldn’t swallow pills and that for many types of medication, it was problematic as it was difficult or impossible to create a liquid suspension. Her suggestion? Teach kids how to swallow pills safely using candy.
Now, first and foremost, this advice is for children who are old enough to understand the difference between medicine and candy because the absolute last thing you want to do is accidentally teach your child that medicine is candy. But for children old enough to understand the distinction (and old enough to need to swallow medicine or vitamins in pill and not liquid or gummy form) it’s a useful exercise.
To help your child, gather up various candies of different sizes. The advice our family pediatrician gave was to start as small as necessary even using confectionary candies (that are as small or smaller than a baby aspirin) and work up to candies that are the size of large vitamins and pills like Mike and Ike candies.
First, explain to your child the purpose of the exercise—that not all medicine comes in bubble gum or cherry syrup—and that you want them to be prepared to swallow pills safely and comfortably.
Starting with the smaller candies first, have your child place the candy in their mouth, take a sip of water and swallow while tilting their head back slightly to help the candy and water pass through with less resistance.
It’s far less stressful on kids to practice with candy when they’re not sick. When you’re coughing, feverish, or just aching all over, that’s the last time you want to learn a new skill (especially one you have to learn to get better). By practicing ahead of time, when those moments arrive where they need to graduate from liquid medicines, they’ll be prepared and able to do so stress and anxiety free.