Childhood Cancer

If your child needs to swallow pills or liquid medications, it will probably be much easier if you try to get off to a good start and establish cooperation early. You can experiment with different techniques to find what works best for her.

• Taste each medication. If it tastes all right, tell your child. Many pills can be chewed or swallowed whole without taste problems.

• If a liquid medication tastes bad, you can ask the pharmacist about FLAVORx® flavorings that are mixed with the medication (for information about FLAVORx®, call 1-800-884-5771 or visit FLAVORx® come in many flavors that kids like, such as cherry, bubblegum, or orange.

• Ask a nurse or doctor for gel caps and pack pills inside (break them up if necessary). Gel caps come in many sizes, and #4s are small enough for a three- or four-year-old to swallow. They are useful for any medication that bothers your child.

I wanted Katy (3 years old) to feel like we were a team right from the first night. So I made a big deal out of tasting each of her medications and pronouncing it good. Thank goodness I tasted the prednisone first. It was nauseating—bitter, metallic, with a lingering aftertaste. I asked the nurse for some small gel caps, and packed them with the pills which I had broken in half. I gave Katy her choice of drinks to take her pills with and taught her to swallow gel caps with a large sip of liquid.

• Give your child a choice of drinks to help swallow a pill or gel cap. Ask the doctor or pharmacist first, though, because some pills should not be taken with certain liquids (e.g., milk, grapefruit juice).

• Suggest that your child hold his nose while he swallows medication that has a bad taste or smell.

• Allow your child to mix pills with other food, such as chocolate chips.

• Crush pills in a small amount of pudding, applesauce, jam, frozen juice concentrate, or other favorite food. This is especially effective with smaller children. Ask the doctor or pharmacist first, though, because some pills should not be crushed (e.g., time-release pills).

Jeremy was 4 when he was hospitalized, and we used to crush up the pills and mix them with ice cream. This worked well for us.

• Let your child experiment with ways to take liquid medication, such as sipping from a dosing cup or squirting from a syringe into the mouth followed by a drink of a favorite beverage (e.g., juice).

• Give your child choices, such as, “Do you want the pink pill or the six white pills first?”

Children usually associate taking medicine with being sick, so you may have to explain if they must continue taking pills even if they feel well. Some parents say to young children, “The pills are needed to gobble up the last few germs.” Others explain that medicine can prevent the illness from returning.

Teenagers face different issues with taking pills than do small children. Although many teenagers are responsible about taking their medication, with others problems arise because adolescence is a time of growing independence and separation from parents. A doctor, nurse, or social worker may be able to help the teen understand why it is important to take all prescribed medicines.

Giving children all required medications is very important. Many studies show the dangers of not finishing all medications, such as the illness returning or the evolution of drug-resistant infections.