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Teach Your Child To Swallow Pills (And Do It Early)

pills.jpgIt happens all the time in our practice--I prescribe a pill to an older child, only to have the child or his parent tell me that, um, he can't swallow pills.

According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, it happens to lots of other pediatricians too. In fact, more than 50 percent of parents in a survey said that they had a child who couldn't swallow pills--and some of those children were teens.

When kids are young, it's not so much a big deal--because luckily most of the common medications we give children come in a liquid form. But the problem is that not all of them do, and as kids grow and need adult doses, swallowing pills becomes necessary.

As with many things (like riding bikes or ice skating) the longer you wait to learn to swallow pills, the harder it can get. And as with many things, practice makes perfect.

So here are some tips for getting over this inevitable hurdle with your child:
-Start early. Preschoolers can swallow pills if we teach them.
-Practice with candy. Just because your child hasn't been prescribed a pill doesn't mean you can't do some practicing for when they are. The Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America suggests starting with small candies, like ice cream sprinkles, and working up in size: Nerds, Mini M&M's, Tic-Tacs, regular M&M's (or Skittles), Jelly Belly brand jelly beans (they are smaller than other brands), then Good and Plenty. The reward is built in--you can eat some while you practice!
-Try different techniques, to see what works best for your child. Here are a few (if your child has any problems that could cause trouble with swallowing, check with your doctor first):
-put the pill on the front of the tongue
-put the pill on the back of the tongue
-put the pill and water in the mouth together
-put the pill on the tongue, sip water but don't swallow--then lean the chin forward toward the chest and swallow, keeping the chin down
-put the pill on the tongue, then have your child put his lips tightly around a water bottle and gulp the water down, washing the pill along with it.
-Try putting the pill in ice cream or another soft, sweet food to help wash it down (and hide the taste).

There are other things we can do to help people who literally choke on pills--there are flavored sprays and training techniques and other tricks of the trade. If your child needs to swallow pills and is getting nowhere with these tips, talk to your doctor.

While crushing pills or opening capsules and mixing them into food that your child eats with a spoon is sometimes an option, you should always check with your doctor or pharmacist before you do it. Crushing pills or opening capsules can sometimes mess up how the body absorbs them--and lead to your child getting too much or too little medication.

Even if you just practice here and there, I promise that there will come a day when you are really glad you did. (Like if you are sleeping over at a relative's house when your child gets a headache or fever, and they only have tablets of acetaminophen.)

So give it a shot. At the very least, it's an excuse to buy some candy.


Photo credit: 2010 Ano Lobb, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

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