Child putting her hand in front to stop from a spoonful of pills

As a compounding pharmacist, I spend time making medications into forms such as liquids, gummies and even lollipops.  For those who are unable to swallow tablets and capsules, it offers an option to take medicines.  Many drugs, however, cannot be made into these forms and so learning to swallow pills is a valuable skill that we often take for granted.  Like any skill, some people have it naturally and others must practice until they learn it.

While there is no specific age for a child to be able to swallow pills, please make sure the child is old enough to be cooperative and motivated to learn a new task.   Like any learned skill, we start small and work our way up. (We don’t start a running program by attempting a marathon on day one.)  Start small with an something such as an ice cream or cake sprinkle. Have the child:

  • Sit up straight
  • Tilt their head back only a bit
  • Take a few sips of water to “practice” swallowing
  • Put the pill on their tongue and then drink the water again. (Sometimes having kids drink through straws can help)

It’s important to be encouraging and not get too stressed as this may take some time to master.  As each skill is mastered, increase the size of the “pill” to a mini M&M and then to a larger candy such as a skittle or regular M&M.

You can make it into a game where the child must swallow the candy without allowing the colour from the candy to transfer to the tongue. This “time limit” can be helpful as some medications have a protective coating. Once this coating is dissolved in the mouth, the medication can become bitter or more difficult to swallow.

If the child cannot or will not swallow a solid dosage form, some medications may be put in a soft substance such as applesauce, pudding or ice cream. By swallowing it along with a soft food that is familiar to the child, it helps to eliminate the psychological barrier. (Mary Poppins said it best: A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!) It is always important to confirm with your pharmacist before doing this, especially if crushing a tablet or opening a capsule. If all else fails, don’t be discouraged; speak to a pharmacist about other dosage forms that may help, such as liquid or gummies.  As always, take care of yourselves (your kids) and each other.