How to give medicine to a reluctant toddler

  • Always give oral medicine with the child in a seated position. Trying to force a child to take medicine while lying down can cause the child to choke on the medicine.
  • Always give the medicine with a clean syringe provided by the pharmacy.
  • Never squirt the medicine in the back of the throat. This will cause choking.
  • Some toddlers are willing to take medicine while sitting in the high chair at the beginning of a meal if they are hungry.
  • Some toddlers resist less if you hold them in your lap and let them help hold the syringe while you push the plunger. In this case, the syringe can be placed in the mouth and the medicine can be slowly dripped onto the mid to back of the tongue.
  • If the child resists or doesn’t open his teeth. Insert the syringe into the side of the mouth between the teeth and cheek, then slowly push the plunger to gradually drip the medicine into the mouth and gently hold the mouth closed until he swallows.
  • Do not tip the head backward. This will make it difficult for your child to swallow.
  • If the child struggles, two adults should work together to give the medicine. One to hold the child’s body and hands and the other to hold the head and give the medicine.
  • Do not raise your voice while giving medicine even if you are frustrated. This will make the child more frightened and resistant.
  • After giving the medication, say you’re sorry you needed to hold him to give the medicine and tell him next time if he helps, you won’t need to hold him.
  • Offer a hug and a reward for taking the medicine.


Any time a medication is given, be sure the correct dose is given at the specified interval for the specified length of time. Read the label of the medication each time it is given. This is especially important if you are giving more than one medication or if you have more than one child. Throw away old medicines after the end of the course.

Liquid medicines should always be measured with a syringe. The pharmacy can provide one.

Medications should never be added to a bottle or drink because this causes incorrect dosing. 

If a child refuses to take a medication, make certain that the medication is necessary and choose your battles. For example: Treating a fever with ibuprofen is not necessary, but is done to make the child more comfortable. It can be skipped. However, an antibiotic needed for an infection is necessary. If in doubt, call our office.

Many drugs, like amoxicillin, can be added to a small amount of chocolate syrup or flavored by your pharmacist (ask your pharmacist). Do not add the medication to hot food or large amounts of food or liquid.

Prescription medications should be given around the same time each day if possible. If your child’s medicine is dosed twice daily, you want to give it about 12 hours apart. A medication given three times daily should be given every 8 hours.

Special considerations for antibiotics: It can take 2 to 3 days for antibiotics to take effect, but if there is no improvement after 48 hours, call our office.

Because antibiotics can cause diarrhea, stomach upset, or disturbances in the intestinal microbiome, it’s a good idea to eat yogurt like Activia or take a probiotic like Florastor or Culturelle daily while on antibiotics and for a few weeks afterward if your child is at least 6 months old. Encourage a diet with plenty of legumes, vegetables, and whole grains to maintain gut health.

Warning: Even if you have taken an medication before, you can still develop an allergic reaction.

If your child develops a rash, stop the medicine, take a picture and call the office.

If breathing difficulty, repeated vomiting, swelling of the mouth or throat, weakness or lethargy with flushing, pallor, or hives develop following a dose of medicine, these are signs of anaphylaxis and require a 911 call and a trip to the emergency department.

Keep all medicines out of children’s reach. Medicines that require refrigeration can be kept in the back of the refrigerator on the top shelf.

If your child ingests too large a dose of medicine, takes medicine more often than prescribed, or ingests somebody else’s medicine, call NC Poison Control 1-800-222-1222.