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Teaching my son to swallow pills

Some children learn to swallow pills early while some teenagers and even some adults can’t do it. Lexie learned almost two years ago when she was 8 but that was out of necessity. She takes daily medication for her allergies and for her attention deficit disorder (ADD). For the first year, we did open her capsules for her ADD and put the medicine in yogurt, but this method didn’t work when away from home or on vacation, so when she stayed overnight with her Nana, my mother-in-law taught her to swallow the capsules.

Twelve-year-old Jase, on the other hand, doesn’t need daily medication and is rarely sick. Of course, their pediatrician never asks if they can swallow pills and usually prescribes liquid medication on the rare occasion they need something. But Jase hates taking liquid meds and even balks at chewable medicine so swallowing pills would open a wide range of medication he can take when necessary. (Some medicine is meant to swallowed as a whole and should not be crushed or chewed or doesn’t come in a liquid version.)

And while I do think swallowing pills is important, it isn’t something we have thought about teaching him before now.

A quick search on the internet showed that any child who can swallow normal chunky textured food such as oatmeal or applesauce can swallow a pill. No, this doesn’t mean your toddler should be swallowing pills, but most school age kids (say age 6 or 7) are ready to swallow a pill.

Basic Steps to Teaching a Child to Swallow a Pill

Use cake decoration sprinkles or candies such as mini-M&Ms or Nerds or small mints like Tic Tacs as your “pills.” Start small and work up to bigger ones. Place the “pill” in the middle of the tongue. Drink water.

(You can have your child look up at the ceiling before swallowing a pill as pills are denser than the water and should sink down first. With a capsule – which floats – you do the opposite and have your child look down. The capsule should float to the back of the mouth and be easier to swallow.)

Yes, it should be that simple. Online tips suggest having your child drink again if the pill doesn’t go down with the first swallow. You then continue with the same size pill to boost confidence before gradually increasing the size of the pill.

With Jase, this didn’t help. He couldn’t swallow even the smallest pill. We didn’t know if this had anything to do with his gag reflex (which can delay learning to swallow a pill) or if the problem was all in his head. We expected it was the latter one and that he just couldn’t get pass the swallowing something without chewing first. We even tried hiding the “pill” in some yogurt (since he doesn’t like applesauce that was the suggested on the internet). Nope. Still didn’t work.

Another online suggestion was to wait until they have already chewed something like a cookie and then stick the pill in and swallow. But with the problem being in his head, we didn’t try this one.

Finally, after moving to the smallest “pill” (grape Nerds), Jase was able to swallow one. And then we tried the largest Nerd in the box. After that we went to gummy bears cut up into small pieces figuring the soft pieces would be easier than a hard “pill.”

Soon he progressed up to the small M&M but had problems with the slightly bigger and capsule-shaped Tic Tacs. The good news is that he became good enough at the smaller pills that when he caught a cold he took small-Sudafed sized pills.

And I guess that is the point of taking the time to teach your child to swallow pills now before it becomes medically necessary because if you wait until they “must” take pills you and your child will most likely become frustrated.

For more information and tips on teaching pill swallowing, check out this website.

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Author Interview – Tarn Richardson

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