Most people who are on regular medications forget to take them sometimes--and most parents who have children on regular medication forget to give them sometimes. And in some families, people forget a lot.
As a pediatrician, I've learned not to ask, "Do you take your medications every day?" The answer is usually "Yes" whether or not it's true. Instead I ask, "In an average week, how often do you end up missing your medications?" That question gets a more honest answer.
The parents that forget aren't bad parents. They are busy, distracted parents. They are parents with full and complicated lives, and parents who have busy kids or kids who don't like taking their medications.
For some conditions, it probably doesn't matter all that much if there's a missed dose here or there. But with many conditions it really does matter. A child with asthma can start wheezing when doses of controller medicines are missed, for example, and a bacterial infection isn't going to go away if the antibiotics aren't taken.
Sometimes, when I don't know that doses have been missed (because parents are embarrassed to tell me), and a child doesn't get better, I end up prescribing stronger medicines with more side effects, or doing tests that ultimately aren't necessary. It's sad when that happens.
Over the years, both as a pediatrician and parent, I've learned some tips that can help.
Use a pillbox. Remember the kind with the days of the week on it? I always used to associate them with elderly people on multiple medications, but then I had a teen who kept forgetting to take her medication--and who would tell me she had taken it when she hadn't (sometimes I think she really did think she had taken it). We got a pillbox, stuck it on the kitchen counter, and it was not only a good reminder for her, but it allowed me to keep track too. An added benefit: If you refill it weekly, you get a heads-up when you are running out.
This may work for pills, but obviously it won't work for inhalers or liquids. So here are some other ideas:
Keep the medication in an obvious (but safe) place. Don't hide it away in a cabinet where you won't see it and will be likely to forget it. The more something is in your face, the better the chances that you'll remember.
Tie giving the medication to something you do regularly anyway. Like...if your child uses an inhaler twice a day, keep it near the toothbrush, and do both tasks together.
Make the timing work for your life. If a medication is given daily, find out from your doctor if it matters what time of day it's given. If it doesn't, give it when you are most likely to remember it--and when your child is most likely to be willing to take it. First thing in the morning, you may be rushing out and forget--but at night, your child (or you) may fall asleep before it's given. Get your child's input on when she thinks is the best time, too. Which reminds me of an important point...
Don't leave it up to your child, unless:
A. They are at least in their teens and...
B. They have demonstrated that they are capable and fully reliable. But most kids aren't, because, well, they are kids. You're in charge. Supervise.
Set an alarm on your cell phone. Everybody's so glued to them, might as well use them for this, too.
Make a check-off sheet, and put it somewhere you can't ignore it, like on the refrigerator. This can be especially useful if your child is on multiple medications, but it works even if there is just one. Make a check mark when the medicine is given. You can use a calendar, but an actual sheet with days of the week written on it often works better (maybe because a calendar is easier to ignore).
Reward yourself for remembering. Everything is easier, and more fun, with rewards. If you've done a good job of remembering for a week, go out for ice cream or otherwise celebrate! Set the bar a little bit higher than where you currently are (if you've been remembering three times a week, for example, give yourself a reward if you get to five), and then challenge yourself to do even better. Accomplishments matter and should be recognized.
If none of these work, talk to your doctor. Please. We want to know. If we don't know, not only does your kid not get the benefits of the medicine, but we miss an opportunity to brainstorm together about what would work.
Because it can work. It might take some extra creativity--or a different medication--but if we keep trying, and work as a team, we can do it.