Even though children’s medicines are meant to taste good these days, some kids just don’t like them. Perhaps the child hates the flavor and/or smell of a particular antibiotic that he or she must take. Or, the child’s medicine comes in pill form and the child may balk at swallowing it. Whatever the problem, a child’s refusal to take medicine can have serious health consequences.
If your child refuses to take medicine, consider the following tips:
Try using Emotional Coaching
Some children simply don’t like medicine. If you tell your child to watch you consume some medicine and say, “Wow, this tastes so good!” you’re probably not going to convince him. If he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like it. Instead, try acknowledging his feelings and show that you understand that he doesn’t like it or has trouble taking it. You can say, “I know you don’t like the taste of the medicine.” or “I know you’re afraid to swallow the pill.” Simply showing you understand his feelings about medicine can help him let go of those feelings a bit. It reduces the struggle. Your acceptance of his reality helps him feel a bit safer with you, perhaps a bit more ready to let you help him. However, be careful not to use the word “but” after you’ve acknowledged your child’s feelings, as in “I know you’re afraid to swallow the pill, but you still have to try.” The word “but” erases the acknowledgment you’ve just provided, making it seem that you’re saying something like, “I know you have a problem here, BUT I just don’t care!” Instead, put a full stop (period, pause) after you name the child’s feelings. Then provide additional information or instructions. It might sound something like this, “I know it’s scary to swallow that big pill. Since you really have to take it, we have to come up with some way to do it. Can I show you a few of the tricks I like to use for swallowing pills?”
Reinforce Small Steps with the CLeaR Method
You can try using the Comment, Label, Reward (CLeaR) Method to encourage your child to take small, appropriate steps toward taking his meds. For instance, if the child is willing to try swallowing water to help a pill go down, you can Comment (“I see you’re really trying to get that pill down!”) and use a positive label (“That’s brave of you.” or “You’re determined I see!”) and you can also add a small reward (“Since you’re trying so hard, I think when we’re done here you can have some extra computer-time tonight.”) Even if the child still can’t swallow the pill, his effort needs to be encouraged. Your encouragement is beneficial – it builds up the positive feeling between you and your child and it helps him to be willing to continue trying to do something that is hard or unpleasant for him to do. Moreover, this strategy avoids the destructive consequences of parental impatience and criticism, as in “What’s wrong with you? Just swallow the pill already – it’s no big deal! I haven’t got all night to stand here and watch you!” This kind of negative approach makes the child even more tense and less likely to cooperate.
Some Children are Very Fearful
For many children, swallowing pills can be a difficult task. Some children experience a gag reflex as they try to swallow a pill, worrying that they might choke on it. Acupressure techniques like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) can calm or even remove the fear and teach how to use distraction and other mind tools effectively, making pill swallowing a much easier task. Rescue Remedy – a special Bach Flower Mixture (see below) – can also help to relax a fearful youngster.
Consider Bach Flower Therapy to Help Ease Emotional Distress
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. For your child’s fear of swallowing pills, you can offer the flower remedy Mimulus, which helps calm fears and phobias. Rock Rose helps for panic, and Cherry Plum is used for loss of control, as we might see in a child’s complete meltdown. If your child is very strong willed and stubbornly refuses to take medicine you can use Vine. The flower remedy White Chestnut is useful for those children who worry and ruminate about things, including their sickness or the awful treatment protocol they must follow. Chicory might help a whining child who seeks excessive pity and attention. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the emotional distress is removed. Start treatment again if it returns. Eventually, the emotional distress should diminish completely.
Use the 2X Rule
The 2X-Rule is a quiet, respectful form of discipline that employs negative consequences (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details). It can be used in moderation in parenting, and especially for issues where compliance is absolutely necessary. Kids just HAVE to take their medicine! If more pleasant techniques have failed to gain their cooperation, you can try the 2X-Rule. Step one involves explaining to your child why it’s important for him to take his or her medicine. Then ask him to take it. Step 2 occurs if the child still refuses to take the medicine. It involves repeating the information you offered in step one and adds a warning (i.e. let him know that further refusal will result in a specific negative consequence – i.e. “If you don’t cooperate with taking your medicine the next time I ask, you will still have to take it and you will lose screen privileges for the night for giving me a hard time.” Your child’s resistance to taking medicine will waiver when he or she is faced with a consequence every time he refuses to cooperate.
Foster Cooperation with Grandma’s Rule
In Grandma’s Rule, parents use the words “when” or “as soon as” instead of the word “if.” “If” introduces a bribe, as in “if you do what I want you to do, I’ll give you a treat.” The problem with this technique is that it suggests that the task is optional, rather than mandatory. It also leaves it up to the child to decide whether the “prize” is worth the trouble of doing the uncomfortable task. The child may even get into bargaining with the parent to increase the reward! However, Grandma’s Rule avoids these problems by leaving the task as mandatory and the prize as conditional. You may try saying things like, “When you take your medicine you can watch your movie (or name any pleasant activity)” or “As soon as you’re finished taking your medicine, we can play monopoly.” In this way you are making it clear that taking medicine is compulsory and pleasant activities are contingent on having completed the task.
Let your Child Choose his Medicine if Possible
These days, medicine often comes in a variety of flavors and styles. For children who have trouble swallowing pills, chewable or meltable forms of pills are often available. Pills, as well as liquid medicines also may come in different flavors. If possible, let your child choose what he is comfortable taking. Medicine-taking can be made so much easier with all the options available today.