I just got finished pitching Ryan Murphy my idea for the next season of American Horror Story, where two Dads repeatedly try to get their stubborn (yet ridiculously adorable) 6-year-old to take his medicine. Ryan felt it would be too dramatic for network TV. I don’t blame him.
As someone who’s endured brutal East Coast winters, debilitating migraines, the occasional childhood bully and three uneven seasons of Amazon’s Transparent, I thought I could handle just about anything. I was wrong. Nothing, I repeat nothing could have prepared me for the horror that is getting my 6-year-old to swallow his medicine.
Our son, Maxwell, has struggled with asthma-like symptoms for a few years. Typically, it’s kept under control with inhalers, which he has no problem using. But because he has hypersensitive airways, a typical cold or flu triggers nonstop coughing fits, nasal congestion and hoarseness that can last for months at a time. And they usually turn into post-nasal drips. In other words — we’re use to trying an array of different medicines.
And despite what you’ve heard — a spoonful of sugar does not help the medicine go down. We’ve tried it. We’ve tried everything. Mushing it in apple sauce … peanut butter … yogurt … ice cream? Tried it. Mixing it in chocolate milk? Tried that too. Letting him do chaser shots with his favorite juice? Yep. Offering him a crisp 20-dollar bill. Tried that twice. No takers. Seriously, nothing seemed to work. And for over-the-counter medicines, we can deal with it because there’s always another brand or flavor to try. (We once bought seven different flavors of Benadryl.) But when it’s a horrible-tasting antibiotic, sometimes there’s no other choice. And doctors tell us we must get him to take it. That’s when things get messy.
Max does to medicine what most of the country has done to Trump: #resist. He refuses to accept it. Every. Single. Time. And his gag reflexes are comparable to Stan's from South Park. So if he doesn’t like the taste, texture or smell, he’ll instantly throw up. When Maxwell decides he doesn’t want something, he means it. Our used-to-be white-but-now-brownish-green sofa is living proof of that. Jokes aside, this medicine-taking thing is serious and not finding a solution can have severe ramifications.
All this madness got me venting to everyone and anyone with a child. I sought advice on social media. I asked teachers, doctors and pharmacists how to get Max to take his medicine. And I got a lot of helpful information on how to not just get your child to take medicine, but get them to swallow it too. Some of the advice worked for me, and some of it didn’t. But in any event, I thought it might help you.
So without further ado, I give you the 10 most often employed medicine-taking tricks (Note: I am not a doctor. I am not a pharmacist. I’m just a desperate dad willing to try anything.)
1. IT’S ALL IN YOUR APPROACH:
For me, asking “Are you ready for your medicine” ends with Max screaming “NO!” and locking himself in our wine cellar (and by wine cellar I mean broom closet next to a half-empty bottle of Manischewitz®). Instead I say something like, “It’s time for your medicine. Show Dada and Papa how a big boy takes his medicine.” Additionally, you should watch your body language and always try to mask your feelings. It’s important to stay calm, positive and reasonable. The more desperate you become, the more they will resist. They can zero in on your energy. Make sure your child feels that you’re on their side. You’re in this together. In other words, it’s not the time to enforce “because I said so” demands. Save that for their pre-teen years.
2. PUT YOUR CREATIVE SKILLS TO GOOD USE:
You could try asking your pharmacist for dye-free medicine. Then let your child pick and mix in their favorite food coloring. Trust me, any excuse to turn their tongues green is a good one. Alternatively, you can ask your local pharmacists to add liquid flavoring. There’s a product called FLAVORx that comes in all the flavors children love from root beer to bubblegum. The awful taste of a cough medicine can be masked by a delicious flavor your child prefers. There may be some additional costs for the custom flavors, so be sure to ask first. Also, while you’re at CVS, grab an extra box of ear plugs. Because if this idea doesn’t work, you’re going to need them!
3. CHILL OUT:
All right stop, collaborate and listen. You can give your child an ice cube to suck on for a minute. The cold will help numb their taste buds a little bit so the medicine goes down more smoothly. And if it’s a gross-tasting medicine, let them suck on the ice cube between sips to mask the taste. If you’re like me, and you worry about your little one choking on the ice, you can also try ice chips, juice popsicles or wrapping the ice cube in a thin washcloth. So, if there was a problem, yo, I possibly just solved it.
4. CAMOUFLAGE IS ALL THE RAGE THESE DAYS:
While it doesn’t seem to work for me, many parents have luck camouflaging the bad taste of medicine by combining it with a sweet-tasting food or drink to mask the bitterness. I’m told white grape juice is the best mix-in. Yogurt and applesauce are good choices too. Just make sure that the masking agent you choose doesn’t have an interaction with the medicine you’re giving, causing it to be more or less potent. If none of these ideas work, try dipping a spoon in chocolate syrup before pouring the medicine. Chocolate's strong taste apparently blocks out any bitterness. If that doesn’t work, nothing will.
5. MAKE IT A GAME:
A simple way to get a child to take medicine is to turn it into a fun game for them to play. For example, start with three spoons (or syringes). Put their favorite juice in one, chocolate syrup in one and medicine in the other… and ask them to swallow each to tell you which is the medicine. Little clever games can make all the difference. Some kids respond well to imaginary role play. (Yep, that’s not just for parents .) Depending on their age, it might help to have your child pretend to give a doll or stuffed animal medicine first. Playing doctor can help them get more comfortable with taking the medicine themselves. I know … the things we do for our kids!
6. LEAVE LYING TO THE PRESIDENT:
Lying is never the answer, whether it’s about inauguration crowd size or telling your children their medicine is going to taste yummy if it's not. When your kids are around the age of 3, you can probably start explaining that taking medicine will make them feel better or make their hurt go away. Another good tip: Never refer to medicine as candy. You don't want them to seek it out when you’re not there to stop them. I mean, a couple of Flintstones vitamins never hurt anyone, but some of the others can.
7. IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK:
Asking for help is not admitting defeat. You should always feel comfortable asking others for advice. A friend suggested I ask the pediatrician for a higher concentration of my son’s prescription — that way we were able to finish it in four days instead of seven. For example, instead of one teaspoon of a drug at a 50-milligram concentration, your child could take half a teaspoon of the 100-milligram concentration. It's the same amount of medication in a smaller dose. Also if your child has an easier time taking chewables than liquids, ask the pharmacist if that's an option. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
8. FORMATION WORLD TOUR:
I knew that would get your attention. These days, medicine can take on lots of different creative forms. For example, now you can ask doctors to prescribe medicine in lollipop form. They even make kid-flavored dissolving strips to suppress coughs. Or you can be more creative. My neighbor told me she puts amoxicillin in the center of raspberries and her daughter eats it right up. While another dad-friend dips a pancake into the dose until each bite soaks up the medicine. So don’t be afraid to be original — it works for Queen B.
9. BYPASS THE TASTE BUDS:
Since taste buds are concentrated on the front and center of our tongues, try using a syringe or a dropper to bypass those fussy taste zones by placing the medicine near the back of their tongue. Even if your child seems too old for this approach, it’s a surefire way to avoid your kid spitting out their bad-tasting meds.
10. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, BRIBE THEM:
Sometimes it’s going to take some good old-fashioned bribery. Like his Dada, Max has a ravenous sweet tooth. And so these days, when it’s time to give Max his medicine, I’ve been known to sneak into our secret stash of sugar-filled treats. His drug of choice? Reese’s Pieces. I offer him four pieces per sip of medicine. I just put the syringe in his mouth, inject it, and before he’s able to spit it out, I say, "Here's your four Reese’s Pieces!” He’s been known to automatically swallow the entire dosage in one gulp to get his hands on the candy faster. I created a monster!
There you have it. All the getting-your-kid-to-swallow-medicine tricks I’ve learned along the way. I hope the road is much smoother for you than it’s been for me. That’s a lie. I hope it’s just as bad for you. Knowing other parents struggle too makes me feel better. #kiddingnotkidding
Now if you need me, I’ll be helping my son search for his Reese’s Pieces that I ate last night.