The doctor is in: Swallowing pills

At what age should children be able to swallow medication in pill form? Is there anything parents can do to help with this? 

The age at which children should swallow pills very much varies for each child. However, a child should be at least 4 years old and cooperative when you decide to teach them how to swallow pills. You should consider teaching them before they are prescribed medicine so that there is less pressure.   

Teaching your child to swallow pills will take patience and practice and should be done at the right time and way so that it is a positive experience. Avoid forcing them to swallow pills. When teaching this, there should be no distractions, so avoid having the TV, phones or tablets on. 

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Parents can try starting with something small and safe like an ice cream sprinkle or mini chocolate chip. If your child is successful, you can try increasing the size of these items. Place the pill or other item toward the back of tongue, add water to mouth, slightly tilt head back (tilting too far can make it harder to swallow), and then swallow water and pill at the same time. Before doing any of these steps, you can practice with only water a couple of times. A parent can even swallow a pill first to encourage the child that they can do it, too. 

Practice should last no more than 10 minutes each time. Practice once a day for about two weeks. Remember to praise your child if they are successful. Even if they are not successful, at least praise them for trying.   

Remember that if a pill is meant to be swallowed whole, it should not be crushed or chewed as this can prevent a medicine from being effective and it can be dangerous to ingest. It’s also important to take advantage of this teachable moment to reiterate that pills are not candy and taking too much of any pill can potentially be dangerous.   

Ask your child’s pediatrician if you need more help with administering medicine to your child. 

— Jason A. Levine, DO, Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Green and Barberton 

Photo provided by Akron Children’s Hospital