Are you struggling to teach your child how to swallow a pill? Maybe even mashed pills in applesauce or diluted them in soda? While it can be very frustrating and sometimes yield little results, pill swallowing is an important skill kids need to learn.
While medicines can come in liquid or chewable form, there are some drugs that are best taken as a pill or tablet. In fact, some pills that are meant to be swallowed whole should never be crushed or chewed, as it could prevent medicine, especially if designed for extended release, from working as it should.
When it comes to teaching your child to perform the necessary swallowing reflex, Akron Children’s Child Life Specialist Olivia Dujanovic, CCLS, said the secret lies in practice and patience.
“Our team of specialists teach pill swallowing by utilizing various sizes of sprinkles and candies to help patients gradually learn to swallow different sizes until they work their way up to a candy about the same size as their pill — and you can, too,” she said. “Practicing makes the skill easier with time and being patient while they learn will allow kids to feel accomplished and successful, while also completing a necessary task.”
In general, your child should be at least 4 years old, and ready and developmentally able to learn this new skill. Just be sure to start before your child needs to take medicines in pill form so there is no pressure.
Easy 4-step process to teaching kids the important skill of pill swallowing
- First, choose a set of 4 to 5 candies that gradually get larger. The first one should be the smallest piece of candy you think your child can handle, while the last one should resemble the size of the pill your child needs to swallow. For example: cake sprinkle, mini chocolate chip, TicTac®, M&M® and jelly bean.
- Second, have your child take a few sips of water to practice swallowing.
- Third, starting with the smallest piece in the set, have your child place the candy as far back on the tongue as possible. Have her tilt her head back only a bit, as leaning too far back can make it harder to swallow.
- Finally, have your child take a sip of water from a cup, not a fountain, and swallow the “pill.” Sometimes using a straw to sip the water can help.
Your child should have as many practice trials as she needs. After five consecutive successful attempts, your child is ready to move on to a slightly larger piece. Continue this sequence until your child can easily swallow a piece of candy about the same size as her pill.
Practice for about 5 minutes each day. If your child moves up and is not successful, return to the previous size candy so each session ends on a bright, positive note, Olivia suggested. If your child refuses to try again, stop and take a break. You can try again later. Allow kids to do this at their own pace and practice with patience.
“Be sure to praise your child for both their effort and success to make it a positive experience that builds your child’s confidence,” Olivia said. “Remind your child that practice makes progress and point out other skills they’ve mastered with time, such as riding a tricycle or tying their shoelaces. When you make it fun and find what works best for your child, both of you will find success!”