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How to teach your child to swallow pills in 6 easy steps

Young boy holds up a pill
Blog

/ by Ashley Rapske, MS, CCLS

Written by Ashley Rapske, a Child Life specialist at Kentucky Children's Hospital.

For some kids, making the leap from liquid or chewable medication to pills can be quite a challenge.

You can help your child learn how to swallow pills by using what every kid loves: candy. One of the easiest ways to teach your child to swallow pills is to practice with small candies, such as sprinkles, and progress to larger candies, such as Tic Tacs or jelly beans.

Typically, children can begin swallowing pills around the age of 10; however, some children as young as 5 or 6 can learn to swallow pills.

To get started, your child should:

  1. Swallow a sip of water or their favorite drink.
  2. Place the smallest candy sprinkle on the middle of their tongue.
  3. Take another sip of the drink.
  4. Keep their head level.
  5. Swallow the drink with the candy.
  6. Take another sip to keep the candy moving.

Encourage your child to keep drinking if the candy does not go down in the first swallow. Children may need to practice many times with the same size candy before moving to the next size. Help your child understand that it is normal for them to feel the “pill” in their throat. The more they practice, the easier it will become.

Always end each session on a success by making sure the last “pill” is swallowed, even if that means moving back to a smaller size.

If your child is struggling with learning this skill, try some of these tips:

  • Try carbonated and non-carbonated drinks, and try the drinks warm, room temperature or cold.
  • Use a straw to drink.
  • Place the candy on different areas of the tongue before taking big gulps of the drink.
  • Stand up or sit up straight.
  • Take a drink without swallowing before putting the candy in the mouth.
  • Try different types of foods to swallow the candy, such as apple sauce, Jell-O, yogurt, pudding, ice cream or milkshakes. You should always check with your physician or pharmacist before your child takes medications with food to make sure it’s OK.

Consult your physician if your child is not ready to swallow pills and needs alternative forms of medication. Do not crush, break or dissolve any tables or capsules unless your doctor or pharmacist has advised you to do so.

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