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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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Administering Medicine to a Toddler

Let’s face it: medicating toddlers can be like mission impossible.  Lips clamped tightly shut, the word “NO” barely discernible behind the clenched teeth . . . no medicine is passing through those lips, right?  Well, maybe there’s another approach.

1.     Ask your toddler what troubles them about taking the medicine.  (For example, is it taste?  Texture or consistency?  Size or quantity?)  Discuss whatever concern your toddler expresses.  (For example, you may say, “You know, this pill IS big.  What would you think if I cut the pill in half and then you swallowed each half separately?”)  If your toddler can’t articulate a specific concern regarding taking the medicine, you may ask specific questions based on what you think the concern may be.  For example, “How do you like the taste of your medicine?”)

2.     Try giving your child voice in his/her experience.  Can s/he choose when or how to take the medicine?  For example, if the medicine comes in both pill and liquid forms, your toddler may take the medicine better if s/he has chosen which form of the medicine (pill or liquid) to take.  If there are flavor options for the medication involved, try letting your toddler choose the flavor that s/he likes best.  Also, if the medicine can be taken in the morning or at bedtime, that may be a choice your toddler can make.  If you give your toddler some control over his/her circumstances, you may get at least some buy-in from him/her.

3.     Try mixing the medicine with something more appealing.  For example, if the medicine is a liquid, try mixing it into your toddler’s orange juice.  If the medicine is a pill, try crushing it finely and mixing it into your toddler’s scrambled egg.  For thick, chalky medicated fluids, try mixing them into a small shake or malt.  (Note: there is debate about whether parents should disclose the mixed-in medicine to the toddler.  This debate is beyond the scope of this blog.)

4.     Try making medicine time fun.  For example, if the medicine is a liquid, try doing the choo-choo train maneuver with the spoonful of medicine.

5.     Try offering incentives.  These may be the obvious: “If you take this medicine, your tummy will feel better.”  You may also try offering additional incentives:  “Every day that you take your medicine without a fuss, you can have 10 extra minutes that day at bedtime.”

6.     With doctor approval, you can take one dose of the medicine and show your toddler that the medicine isn’t as icky as s/he thinks it is.

Eye drops are a different kind of medication and a special kind of challenge for parents to administer to toddlers.  Here are some tips for administering eye drops.

1.     Ask your toddler what troubles them about eye drops.  (For example, it is likely that your toddler fears being poked in his/her eye.)  Discuss whatever concern your toddler expresses.  (For example, you may say, “You know, I’ve been putting eye drops in my own eyes for years.  I’m good at this.  You trust me, don’t you?”)  If your toddler can’t articulate a specific concern regarding eye drops, you may ask if it’s a fear of being poked and prompt discussion in this manner.)

2.     Unfortunately, #1 alone will likely not be enough to resolve the difficulty, so you’ll need to couple #1 with other techniques.  For example, try having your toddler close his/her eyes, then you can put an eye drop near his/her tear duct.  Let the eye drop rest there, with your toddler’s eyes remaining closed, until the eye drop warms to a comfortable temperature for him/her.  When s/he opens his/her eye, the eye drop will likely (but not certainly) run into his/her eye.  (Note: it’s best to do this one eye at a time.  When your toddler opens his eyes, have him/her tilt his/her head to help ensure that the eye drop run into his/her eye.)  One controversial technique is to apply the eye drops while your toddler sleeps.  Typically, your toddler will awaken just long enough to open his/her eyes, let the eye drops run into his/her eyes, and then promptly fall right back asleep.

Medicating your toddler will likely never be effortless, but it doesn’t have to be a battle.  By following the tips above, you can make medicating your toddler easier.

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