Taking Care of an Ill Loved One

Three Strategies For Teaching Children To Swallow Pills

If you're a parent who needs to give your children medication that they have to swallow whole, rather than drink or chew, and those children don't already know how to swallow pills, you're going to have to teach them. The age at which a child can try to swallow a pill is individual; some children have strong gag reflexes, for example, that make it harder for them to swallow pills even if they are older. Giving your children gradual training can help them overcome any worries about the process. Here are three strategies to use to teach your children.

Mini Marshmallows

The main fear that comes up when faced with swallowing something without chewing is that it will get stuck in the throat. Starting with something small and soft -- so soft that it could just flatten out as it's swallowed -- can help allay that fear. A mini marshmallow cut into thinner rounds is perfect. Start by cutting the marshmallow into quarters and having the child try to swallow one of those with water, without chewing. Move up to half a mini marshmallow, and eventually to a whole mini marshmallow. That will get them used to the sensation of placing something in their mouths and not chewing before swallowing.

Head Position

When people start swallowing medication whole, they often yank their heads back as they swallow, thinking this will help throw the medication down their throats. However, this can contribute to the medication getting stuck in the throat -- reinforcing the fear you tried to get over with the mini marshmallows. Have your children practice placing something small, like another mini marshmallow, a tiny mint, or something else that's very small, on their tongues, and then have them drink water and swallow everything without moving their heads.

What's happening is the water is grabbing the medication (or other food item), actually making it float a bit, and washing it back down the throat. If the child yanks his or her head back, the medication will separate from the water and may not be washed down fully.

Food Disguise

When you think the child is comfortable enough with swallowing without chewing, start using small medications (like baby teething tablets) mixed in food. Obviously, don't give them the medications if they don't really need them. But the next time your child needs to take medicine, have them shove the pill into a spoonful of ice cream, for example. Point out to them that a normal spoonful of ice cream is way bigger than the pill, and they normally swallow chunks of ice cream without swallowing. You can also use applesauce, or if you're OK with working with chewed food, have them chew up some bread, and then have them place the pill in their mouths and push it into the bread with their tongues. It sounds gross, but it can help them realize that swallowing a pill is easier than swallowing food.

If you want to discover more on teaching your children to swallow pills, contact a pediatrician. You can also find out from the pediatrician's office about cutting larger pills, too, as your children gain more experience.