Managing a medical condition isn’t always easy, but it’s better and more effective when sticking to the proper treatment plan. Whether it’s an injury or illness with short-term treatment (like antibiotics for a throat infection) or one that involves a lengthy recovery process or long-term treatment (like insulin for diabetes), ensuring the best possible outcome hinges upon developing trusted communication with your medical team and then following through on their instructions.
Asking your child or adolescent to adhere to the process can be especially challenging. Sometimes medications don’t taste great or they have a funny texture. Other times treatments are painful. Despite these drawbacks, they need to be done every day as directed for the condition to get better.
The following tips may keep you from chasing your toddler around the house to take their medicine, or finding your older child’s medication on the kitchen counter because they forgot to take it as they rushed out the door to catch the bus.
Understand the importance
Parents and other caregivers are the best role models for their children. As all parents know well, children and adolescents are smart. They often pick up on things going on around them even if they’re not said out loud. If parents indicate in any way that medication or treatment should not be completed (e.g., treatment is too hard, child cannot swallow pills, medication tastes bad, other natural remedies may be better), the child may refuse to do it.
Children and adolescents also may struggle with taking medication or doing treatments because they don’t want others to know about their illness. It’s important for parents to help children feel good about taking medications and doing treatments. You can help normalize having an illness and completing the associated treatments by reminding your child that they’re not alone. There are many other kids who have to take medications or do treatments. They may still prefer to take medication in places away from other people, which is okay too. It can also be helpful to remind them that taking medication or doing their treatment is only for a short period of time, but will help them feel better for the entire day.
Finally, children (and adults!) are more likely to follow through with treatments when they understand why they’re doing them in the first place. Don’t hesitate to ask questions of your child’s medical team so you’re clear on the plan and you can help explain its importance to your child.
Develop a daily schedule
Routines can work wonders. Children thrive on knowing what to expect and when, and routines can help adults keep track of countless daily responsibilities.
- Take medication or administer treatment at a consistent time every day, such as at mealtimes, during certain TV shows, after bath time, etc.
- Post a picture or word schedule that your child can follow for all tasks, including medication and treatments.
- Use a daily checklist for medication taking. Let your child check off or place a sticker next to what medications or treatments were completed.
- Set an alarm on your phone and/or post reminders on post-it notes in your home.
- Use a pill box to keep track of which medications still need to be taken.
- Use apps like Mango Health to receive daily reminders and earn incentives for taking medication. Mango Health is a mobile health app that can be downloaded on iPhones or Android devices.
Improve the taste
Provide a special treat before and/or after medication administration or treatments.
- Put medications in fluid (apple juice, cranberry juice, etc.) or food (apple sauce, yogurt, pudding, etc.) if possible. Before using this strategy, check with your medical team or pharmacist since some medications cannot be mixed in with food or liquids.
- Identify a flavor that your child enjoys (cherry, strawberry, bubble gum, etc.) and ask the pharmacy to flavor the medication.
- Make taking medication and completing treatments fun. Have a contest to see how fast medicine/treatments can be completed, if applicable.
- Allow the child to have some control over when the medication/treatment is administered. “Would you like to take your medicine now or in five minutes?”
- Set a timer for when medicine should be taken or treatment should be completed.
- Plan a fun activity, such as going to the park or playing a game, which can be done after treatment has been completed.
Help the medicine go down
Some children have a particularly hard time swallowing pills. There are a number of techniques for making this process easier for everyone.
- Engage the child in daily practice with small candies to improve their confidence and ability to swallow pills.
- Use a product like Pill Glide to coat the throat and help the medicine slide down. This product is also good for masking the taste of medication. (Check with the doctor or pharmacist before using.)
- Have your child put the pill as far back on their tongue as possible.
- Use pill swallowing cups to help pills go down more smoothly.
Still having trouble?
If your child continues to struggle, a psychologist can help. From working through anxiety to addressing challenges with pill swallowing, they’re on your team to help with adhering to treatments so your child can feel better.
Look for more information specific to making medicine time easier for the whole family on the blog next month!
Medical executive editor for mental health blog series: Bela Sood, MD