How to Get a Toddler to Take Medicine

Does a spoonful of sugar help the medicine go down? Not always. Learn how to get your toddler to take medicine without a struggle.


At 3 years old, my son developed a cold that later turned into phenomena. With his symptoms worsening, I knew a trip to the pediatrician was in order. A few hours later, I left the pharmacy with a bottle of amoxicillin and the relief that my little one would soon be better.

Once at home, I poured the correct dosage into the measuring spoon. “Open up,” I said to my toddler. No such luck. After 45 minutes and a lot of tears, I finally managed to get him to take some without spitting it back up.

Since then, I’ve found strategies that work for my kids and have talked to numerous moms that recommend different solutions for administering medicine to toddlers. While not every trick will work for your toddler, keep trying until you find one that works.

What the Experts Say

“Before you begin what may become a messy and ugly struggle, be sure that your child really needs the medication. If you aren’t convinced that the medication is necessary, you will give up before the dose has been administered.”

How to Say No to Your Toddler, William G. Wilkoff


“Be prepared. Have a drink of water ready for her to rinse down the medicine, and a little special treat or a favorite toy so that as soon as the medicine is in, you are ready to take her mind off it.”

Help! My Child’s in Hospital: A Parent’s Survival Guide, Becky Wauchope


“Toddlers and preschoolers can easily take liquid medications from an oral syringe, a calibrated teaspoon, or a medicine cup. Allowing children to take their own medication, giving rewards as incentives, and providing choices that fit into the medication regimen enhance autonomy and cooperation.”

Nursing Care of Children, Susan R. James, Kristine Nelson, Jean Ashwill


“Begin by educating your child, even when he is very young. Explain what medication is and how it helps him get healthy. Be clear that taking the medicine is nonnegotiable, and that “we all do it.”

How to Con Your Kid, David Borgenicht, James Grace


“With a toddler, you may be able to conceal the medicine in her meal or drink. Or you can make happy faces and tell her how yummy it is.”

Dads, Toddlers and the Chicken Dance, Peter Downey


The Best Ways to Get the Medicine Down

Getting the average toddler to take his medicine isn’t easy. Have a strong-willed kid? Forget about it. Forcing a child to take medicine can lead to vomiting or even choking. Without the medicine, your little one won’t get better. So what do you do?

First, don’t get mad. Remember back when you were a child: the thick liquid that coats your mouth can be tough to swallow – even with “flavorings.”

Next, follow some simple strategies that will ensure that your little one ingests the correct dosage. While a stubborn toddler may still engage in a power struggle, you can feel good knowing he took his medicine.

When administering medication to your child you should avoid calling the medicine candy, according to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Also keep the medicine out of reach of children.

1. Maintain a positive attitude. Most children will respond better to encouragement rather than frustration.

2. Give your toddler choices so that he feels in control. You have several options: ask him how he would like to take the medicine (cup or syringe) and where he would like to take it (at the kitchen table or while sitting on the couch).

3. Add the medicine to food or drink. Many types of children’s medications can be added to food or drink to disguise the taste. Ask your pharmacist if your child’s medicine can be added to certain foods or drinks, such as applesauce or chocolate milk.

4. Reward your child for good behavior. While bribes are not always the best option, rewarding your child for taking his medicine can make the process go much more smoothly.

5. Let your child use a syringe. Many children like to control how much medicine they take at once. With a syringe, your child can swallow small amounts at a time.

6. Alter the medicine’s flavor. Ask your pharmacist about adjusting the flavor of the medicine. Many pharmacies use a product called FLAVORx to make medications taste better.

7. Numb the tongue before administering the dose. Have your child lick an ice cube or popsicle to numb the tongue and temporarily shut down the taste buds.

8. Bypass the tongue. If numbing the tongue doesn’t work, try bypassing it altogether. Using a syringe, squirt the medication in the back of the mouth so that it completely misses the taste buds.

9. Stand firm but give a reason. Even if your little one is resistant, remain firm. Give your toddler a reason for taking the medicine – e.g. “The medicine will help you feel better.”

If all else fails, have another caregiver restrain your toddler. When not taking the medicine isn’t an option, restraining your toddler may be the only option, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Have one adult hold the child in their lap. The caregiver should hold the child’s hands and head while the other person gives the medicine.

“Keep the mouth closed until your child swallows. Gravity can help if you have your child in an upright position,” says the website.

No parent likes to see their toddler feeling unwell. Fortunately, a few doses of medicine are all it takes to make most sick children well again. Getting your little one to actually take the medicine is the tricky part. Try different strategies to avoid a struggle and when your child finally does take their medicine, give plenty of praise.

“In addition to verbal praise, give kids a sticker and put it on a calendar after they take the medicine,” says pediatrician Kimberly Giuliano. “They will feel rewarded, and they will also be able to follow their progress visually on the calendar.”


Brandy Dishaw

Brandy is a content specialist and proud mother of two children. She enjoys writing engaging content on parenting, children’s health, and educational topics, and has been published on websites like Modern Mom, Yahoo! Shine, and With more than a decade of experience as a writer and mom, she combines research and personal experience to provide her audience with insight to the world of parenting.

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