Teaching your kids to swallow pills (with free bonus math section)

The Pediatric Insider

© 2015 Roy Benaroch, MD

Holly (a regular! thanks!) wrote in: “Dr. Roy, are the any tips/tricks on teaching kids how to swallow a pill?  I tried to get my 9-year-olds to take the tiniest of probiotics recently, and it was an epic fail!”

I’ve got no guarantees, here—it turns out that at least some adults never learn to swallow pills whole, which I guess is why Viagra is available as a chewable. But I think a 9 year old might be willing to try to learn. Some tricks can maybe help!

Start with mini-M&Ms. They’re little and cute and small and smooth, and (as you well know) they don’t melt in your hands. If Junior can handle an M&M mini, graduate to full-sized M&Ms, and then even to those monster peanut ones if you’re feeling lucky.

Try a pill-swallowing cup, like one of these. These sort of hide the pill on a little shelf, so it just travels down the gullet along with a gulp of water. Clever!

There are also sprays to make a pill more “slippery” – and, bonus, to make them taste like strawberry. I suppose butter-flavored Pam would also work. Here, try this oily pill that tastes vaguely like popcorn. OK, maybe that’s a bad idea.

Then there’s the tried-and-true, just huck it down your throat and drink some water. After it works once or twice, kids usually get over the mental block, and don’t need any help getting pills down. Though I’d still hide the Viagra.


Bonus Math Section

In case you hadn’t noticed, liquid medications are a complete rip-off. An average 12 year old weighs about 90 pounds, and the correct dose of ibuprofen for that weight is 400 mg—that’s either two adult pills, or 4 tsp (20 mL) of the liquid. Using the brand name Advil and the prices on Amazon, a single dose using pills (300 pills for $16) would be about 10 cents. Using Advil tasty grape flavor, 4.29 per 4 oz,, I get 70 cents a dose. Besides, pills are easy to carry, and the generics are even cheaper. Let’s get those kids swallowing!

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2 Comments on “Teaching your kids to swallow pills (with free bonus math section)”

  1. Dr. Helen Vandenberg, PhD, RN Says:

    The University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada has conducted research on this topic and they provide very useful videos for parents and health care providers. As a nurse I used these videos to help parents who needed their children take oral typhoid prior to international travel – many found it useful. Apparently, it helps to try different head positions. See the link here: http://research4kids.ucalgary.ca/pill-study


  2. Holly Misirly Says:

    Thanks, Dr. Roy – I’d actually thought about trying mini M&M’s, so will definitely give that a shot now! Thanks for the bonus math too – the kids are working on division, so maybe I’ll use this as a practice word problem….


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