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13:10 PM

A spoonful of sugar: A pediatrician's advice on how to help the medicine go down

By Lanna McClain, M.D.

We all know that Mary Poppins was great with kids, and she had a magic carpetbag full of thrills and fun for her two small friends. She even had magic syrup to help Michael and Jane take their medicine. But as parents and pediatricians, we know it’s not all so magical when it comes to getting your child to take their medicine. Here are some ways that getting your child to take his/her medicine can at least be more manageable.

Improve the flavor.

Pharmacists can use a flavoring product to make medicines taste better, and your child can even help pick out their favorite taste, and it can even help them feel more in control if they feel like they are picking out a snow cone flavor, like bubblegum or watermelon! Be sure to ask when you pick up your prescription.

Add medicine to food.

Crushing a pill or opening a capsule can disguise the medicine in a favorite food. Some of these may include apple sauce, jam, chocolate spread, pancake syrup, peanut butter (if not allergic!) or pudding. Make sure your child eats all the food to get the full dose. However, be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor, as the medication may be altered by doing so.

Chill out!

Try giving your child a popsicle first, which not only flavors the taste buds with a good taste but also can numb the tongue. If you don’t have a popsicle handy, you can put a spoon in the freezer for a few minutes, place it on your child’s tongue, then remove the spoon and give your child the medicine. And sometimes, simply putting your child’s medicine in the fridge to chill it a bit can help lessen the strong taste of the medicine. Check with your pharmacist to see if the medicine can be chilled before you do this, just to make sure you maintain its integrity.

Mask the taste.

Some strong flavors like chocolate or strawberry syrup and coffee creamers (like confetti cake or cookies and cream) can be used to help mask the bitter taste of the medicine. Be sure to only use as much as your child can take at one sitting while taking her entire dose of medication.

Get creative!

Some children may prefer to take the medication from their favorite tea set cup, or pretending to give the medicine to their favorite “sick” teddy bear who is also taking his medicine too! Be sure to measure the correct dose with a syringe or measuring spoon.

Teach your child to swallow pills.

Children as young as 4 years of age can be taught to swallow pills. Some parents will start with small pieces of candy, like mini-M&M’s. Then gradually work up to the pills. Some tips that can help include coating the pills in cold water and drinking some water first - to make them slip down the tongue and throat instead of sticking. You can even slip the pill in a spoonful of Jello.

Be careful to avoid choking.

It may be an option to split up the dose into smaller and easier-to-handle portions. When giving medicine to infants and smaller children, remember to aim the syringe to squirt the medication into the lower cheek rather than the back of the throat, which can invoke a gag reflux or choking.


Just like do in our office, be free with stickers and suckers to ‘encourage’ cooperation-otherwise known as bribery!! Our children know rewards work and will work hard for them!

Blame me!

We pediatricians have big shoulders and we are happy to remind your child that we really are counting on them to help us to help them in order to get better!

Get help!

Your friends and family can lend a help to get little Michael or Jane’s medicine go down. Some may have more ideas, like a ‘spoonful of sugar!'

Good luck!

Get to know Lanna McClain, M.D.

I've been a pediatrician since 1996 and helped open the Cook Children's Physician Network Clinic in Burleson in 2010. I grew up in Odessa, Texas and obtained both my undergraduate and Medical Degree from Texas A&M University (WHOOP!). The best part of practicing pediatrics is seeing children grow from infancy to adulthood, and impacting that life positively! I have 2 college-age children, so I’m still working on the parenthood stuff, too! Outside of the office, I enjoy reading, yoga, playing the piano ( guitar, banjo and ukulele - too!) , and boating, fishing and paddle-boarding with my husband!  New and existing Cook Children's Burleson pediatrician office patients can make an appointment by calling 817-447-445 or by clicking here.