Foodie Judy here! Yesterday a member of our Feeding Littles Clients Only Facebook group asked how to teach a child how to swallow a pill, so we thought we’d give you a tutorial here! 

Why do some kids need to swallow pills? Some medications only come in pill form or kids may not like/tolerate the liquid or chewable version. Sometimes important medications cannot be crushed or cut. Teaching your child (age 4+) to swallow a pill can be a very helpful skill, especially if they are dealing with a temporary or chronic illness or if they need to take a supplement and it doesn’t come in a palatable liquid, powder, gummy or chewable. (See our blog post for more on supplements.)

Here are our steps for helping to teach your child how to swallow a pill:

  • Make sure your child is willing and motivated (and at least 4 years old) – see more below.
  • Have your child sit with good posture and feet supported on the floor or a foot rest.
  • Start with something very small like a cake sprinkle. Fill two straw cups with 4 oz of water.
  • Demonstrate by taking a sip of water from the straw, then place the sprinkle on the front to middle of your tongue. Drink the rest of the 4 oz of water.
  • Now it’s your kiddo’s turn! Practice a few times and keep it positive. Next, try 2 or 3 sprinkles. Do this for a few days or a few weeks until you’re confident your child can try a small pill.
  • Have applesauce nearby to help facilitate a swallow in case the sprinkle feels stuck – the applesauce acts as a “magnet”.

Remember that we all develop differently. Some kids are not ready for this at age 4.

A few additional points that we want to add:

  • First off, if your child has oral-motor or swallow issues, consult with your pediatrician or feeding team first.
  • Make sure your child is willing to do this – forcing them will result in an unpleasant experience. Sometimes recruiting an older sibling, family member or friend can motivate them to try it.
  • Cake sprinkles are small and can be chewed in case your child defaults to chewing. Some families also use tic tacs, but we like sprinkles because they’re so small and soft to start with.
  • Use a straw cup so that your child doesn’t tip their head back really far, as it can actually prevent a successful swallow.
  • Keep the experience positive – praise them when they do it successfully, but also encourage them if it doesn’t go right. Some children have anxiety about swallowing pills, so we want to make this a positive, productive process.
  • Applesauce or another fruit purée can help with the swallow process – keep it nearby when practicing with sprinkles and with the actual pill.
  • Make sure the pills you offer are relatively small and easy to swallow – large tablets may not work for your child.
  • Work with your pharmacist about the best medication delivery method for your kiddo.

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