Managing Your Child’s Medicine

Children get sick with everything from the sniffles to ear infections to other less common illnesses. When these happen, you’ll likely take them to the doctor. Your doctor may give your child medicine to make them feel better. Here are some things you need to know about getting and giving your child medicine.

Path to improved health

There are two types of medicines. Prescription medicines are medicines you get from your doctor. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are medicines you can buy without a prescription from your doctor.

Your child may need both kinds of medicine. Know what you should do each step of the way to help your child feel better and keep them safe.

When you visit the doctor, be sure to tell them all medicines your child is taking (both prescription and OTC). Also list any drug allergies your child has. If your doctor wants to prescribe medicine for your child, ask how much it may cost. If the medicine is too expensive, your doctor may suggest another medicine that’s more affordable. All this information will help your doctor decide the right medicine for your child.

If you get a prescription from your doctor, take it to the pharmacy to be filled. But before leaving the doctor’s office, ask your doctor to note on the prescription form what the medicine is for. This will help the pharmacist double-check the prescription. Most doctor’s offices also offer to call the prescription in to the pharmacy or send it electronically, so you won’t have to do it.

The pharmacist should tell you when and how to give your child the medicine. For liquid medicines, the pharmacist may give you a measuring device. They should show you the right way to use it.

Your pharmacist should answer any questions you have about the medicine. Ask the pharmacist for a medicine information sheet. It will tell you about the medicine.

At home, be sure you only give the prescribed or recommended dose of medicine. Giving too much medicine can be harmful.

Use the measuring device from the pharmacist every time you give the medicine. An ordinary kitchen teaspoon will not hold the right amount of medicine.

Keeping track of medicine

It may be helpful to keep a notebook of information about the medicines your child takes. Do this for both prescription medicines and OTC medicines. Information on the list should include:

  • The name of the medicine
  • What it is for
  • The dose (amount) of the medicine to give
  • What measuring device to use
  • The number of times a day the medicine should be given
  • What time the medicine should be given
  • Whether the medicine should be given with food
  • The number of days the medicine should be given
  • How you will know the medicine is working
  • The most common and important side effects
  • If your child has any reaction to the medicine

Note: When a drug facts label on the medicine says to give it “every 6 hours,” that generally means 4 times a day (for example, at breakfast, lunch, supper, and bedtime). It doesn’t usually mean you have to wake the child up in the night to take medicine. “Take every 8 hours” generally means the medicine should be taken 3 times a day.

How to give your child medicine

Sometimes, your child may not want to take medicine. It may taste bad, your child may not want to swallow pills, or your child may simply not want to take it. Try these tips to get your child to take medicine:

  • As the adult, you should be positive and upbeat. Make taking medicine an enjoyable time for your child.
  • If your child has stuffed animals or dolls, let him or her give the animal or doll pretend medicine first. That may make your child more willing to take the real medicine.
  • If the medicine tastes bad, help disguise its flavor. Give your child a small bit of something they like, such as a sip of juice or a small cracker. Then give a bit of the medicine. Then give a bit more juice or cracker. Repeat until the dose of medicine is taken.
  • Ask your doctor if the medicine is available in other forms. For example, if your child has a hard time swallowing pills, ask if the medicine is available as a chewable or liquid.
  • Ask your pharmacist to add flavor to liquid medicines. Let your child choose the flavor. They may be more willing to take the medicine if they were able to pick the flavor.
  • Some medicines can be mixed with food or drink, such as juice or pudding. This makes them taste better. Ask your doctor if your child’s medicine can be mixed like this.
  • Offer your child a sticker or other treat as a reward after taking the medicine.
  • For older children, offer to let them suck on ice chips before taking the medicine. This may numb the taste buds and hide the medicine’s bad taste.
  • Explain to your child how medicine can help him or her stay healthy or feel better.

Safe storage of medicine

It’s important that you safely store medicines at home. Store all medicines up and away, out of sight and reach of young children. Put liquid medicines in the refrigerator (if required) before giving them to your child.

Keeping other medicines in a cool, dry place will help prevent them from becoming less effective before their expiration dates. Do not store medicines in bathrooms or bathroom cabinets, which are often hot and humid. Children should not be allowed to play with medicine bottles, even when they are empty.

Things to consider

Not all OTC medicines are safe for children to use. Call your doctor before giving your child an OTC medicine. Talk with your doctor before giving your child two medicines at one time.

Even when your child begins to feel better, continue to give as much medicine as your doctor prescribed. Stopping the medicine before it’s all gone may cause your child to get sick again. If you’re giving your child an OTC medicine, it is usually okay to stop when your child feels better.

If you use a syringe to give liquid medicine to your child, first throw away the small cap of the syringe. Children can choke on these caps.

Call your doctor if a medicine your child is taking isn’t working as expected. For example, if pain isn’t going away with the suggested OTC medicine. Or if taking an antibiotic for a few days isn’t making your child feel better. Also, call your doctor right away if your child has a bad reaction to a medicine.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What is this medicine for?
  • How much will the prescription cost?
  • How long will my child need to be on this medicine?
  • What are the side effects of this medicine?
  • How soon should my child feel better after taking this medicine?
  • Is this medicine available in another form?
  • Is it okay to give this medicine with food?


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