Medication is an extremely complex issue. At the end of the day, no parent really wants to medicate their child. We worry about the side effects of taking medications whether the prescription is for short or long term use. It’s often hard to trust the advice you’re being given by doctors and therapists. It’s often hugely challenging to get your child to take the medication particularly if the child has sensory and/or eating issues. It’s hard to decide when and if the child should come off the medication. It can be difficult when your child is settling in to new medication. It can take up to six weeks to see any results of the medication and there is often a tendency to give up on the meds and come off them before this time frame is complete. And then, like all things relating to parenting, there’s the guilt and the fear of judgement from others. It’s always been curious to me that if we medicate a diabetic or epileptic child no-one questions whether this is the best choice for the child’s health. But when it comes to anxiety, mental health issues, OCD, ADHD or other medically diagnosed conditions, people are so quick to criticise a parent’s choice to medicate. It’s rather hypocritical. Medication is indeed an extremely complex issue.
I have some tips for you which I hope you might find helpful.
When it’s time to medicate, as a parent you know that you’re really out of other options. You’ve generally already tried alternative therapies, counselling and other supports but your child’s functionality in their daily lives is still a challenge. If you’re feeling anxious, judged or overwhelmed by the decision about whether or not to medicate, it might make it easier to try to view medication as a “window for learning” and create a trial period time frame for the medication trial. This certainly helped me.
In my mind, I decided we would trial the medication for 3-6 months and then we would re-evaluate. Additionally, this medication provided a ‘window for learning’ – a window of time in which the child was likely to be quite responsive to therapy and learning new strategies for managing things such as self-regulation and anxiety. This made it easier for me to get my head around the decision and made it all seem less final. I could mentally commit for 3 months.
Often, medication IS only required for a short window but in the event that your child really does need to stay on the meds longer term, this ‘trial’ period or ‘window’ allows you and your child with some time to get your head around. If medication is about improving the quality of your child’s life, helping them to function more fully and more happily in their daily lives, and/or assisting them to feel better, sleep better and engage better then to me it’s certainly worth trying.
So what do you do if your child cannot swallow tablets?
- At the point the doctor is prescribing the medication, ask what forms the medication comes in. If it only comes in tablet form, you might make a request to have the medication compounded (put into liquid form) so that it’s easier for your child to take.
- If your child’s medication only comes in tablet form, try crushing the tablet and put it into a liquid such as juice (check with your doctor to ensure this doesn’t compromise the efficacy of the medication. Long acting/ slow release medications generally cannot be crushed – so ensure you check first).
- If your child is really struggling with the taste of the medication, try some of the following options. Chocolate sauce is very good at concealing the taste of medications. Ice-cream and yoghurt are also quite good. Personally, I’ve really struggled with this issue and the only thing that has worked for me is to keep flat Coca-Cola in the fridge and use it. It may seem perhaps ill advised for me to use Coke but it’s better than the alternative which is no medication and very unhappy children. Whatever gets the job done. Of course, always seek your doctor’s advice to ensure that whatever option you choose is safe and doesn’t impact upon the integrity of the medication.
- Another little trick I’ve discovered is ice! Before giving your child their medication, give your child some ice to suck on. This numbs the mouth and takes the edge off the bad taste of the medicine. Putting a metal spoon into the freezer before placing medication on it can also be a great distraction.
- Associating rewards with taking medication is a great way to motivate your child to take their medication. You can reward with treats or with games or outside activities – whatever your child’s currency is.
How can I teach my child to swallow tablets?
- Swallowing tablets can be a huge ask for many kids but can be especially challenging for children with sensory issues.
- I found it easiest to start with little chards of ice. The boys understood that ice would melt so there was absolutely no way it could get stuck in their throats and choke them. Once they accomplished this we experimented with swallowing tic tacs and then M&Ms.
- The boys seemed to find it easier to swallow the tablets using a water bottle as opposed to using a glass of water. Straws are also good.
A new therapy program aimed at helping kids to swallow pills. It starts simply by getting children to swallow water with their heads in different positions – left, right and middle. The also teach the “duck shake” to get the pill into the back of the mouth.
- Place a small lolly (tic tac, nerds, M&M) on back of tongue
- Sip of water
- Duck shake (shaking of head from side to side – gets pill to back of mouth)
- Assume a number of head positions and practice each position. Thumbs up or thumbs down – has the tablet gone?
- Practice this daily for 5-10 minutes for two weeks.
Resource for parents on helping your children to learn to swallow tablets.
Social story about taking medicine.
“I can take my medicine” – Primary school aged social story.