If you’ve ever been ill, whether it is a mild headache or a chronic condition – you have probably had to take some tablets at some point. As an adult, most of our medicine comes in tablet form as standard, and it’s actually quite rare to find a liquid version of anything except cold medicine.
Being able to swallow tablets without any problem is something we take for granted as adults. After all, it’s no different than swallowing food, or water really, is it? But to a child who has only known liquid medicines their entire life, transitioning to tablets can be a bit of an ordeal. So rather than assuming they will make the change smoothly, parents should help their children learn how to swallow tables comfortably, when they are ready.
When Do Children Move To Pills?
The first question for most parents is arguably the most difficult – when do you start transitioning your child from liquid medicines onto tablets? A lot of it has to do with the maturity level of your child, rather than their actual age. Every child is unique, and only you will know when they are truly ready to make the change. Generally children are able to learn to swallow tablets or capsules from approximately six years, and most master the technique on their own by ten years.
As for why children have to learn to take tablets, the answer comes in 2 parts. The first we have already addressed – it’s rare for adult medicines to come in liquid form, so your children need to learn to take tablets. It’s just one of those essential life skills (even if it’s one we don’t think about much). The second is that many medicines that come in pill form are meant to be taken whole – not crushed or chewed, and taking them this way could be dangerous.
So, how do you help your child learn how to swallow tablets?
The Teaching Technique
Getting your child to smoothly transition to taking tablets is a lot to do with the approach you take, rather than the actual tablets themselves. When you feel they are ready, sit them down and explain that they will need to start taking medicines in pill form now. Remind them of the other skills they have mastered that they thought would be hard (tying a shoelace or riding a bike are good examples), and let them know that you know they can do this too. Then, show them what that means. Let your child watch you take a tablet (a multivitamin will work if you don’t usually take tablets) and model the correct behaviour for them.
Before you start with the actual tablets, it can sometimes help to practice swallowing other things whole in the same fashion. After all, you want your child to be able to swallow tablets before they need to take the medicine, so now is the time to get them used to the sensation and comfortable with the idea. Try starting out with something small, like a sprinkle, encouraging them not to chew and to just swallow it with a mouthful of water. Once they are happy with that, move on to something a bit larger, and more ‘traditional’ pill size. Individual chocolate chips are always popular for this, as they won’t cause any issues when swallowed and are tasty too! When you think they are ready to move onto actual tablets, get something that they can take regularly at first – like a non-chewable vitamin – so they can get used to the sensation. Opt for a smaller size of pill if you can, and work your way up to standard or larger sized ones when they are more confident.
Now, it’s time to try swallowing the first tablet. Remember that you need to be calm and try not to apply any pressure, as your nerves will affect your child as much as their own. Let them choose where they take the tablet, and when in the day. When they are calm and comfortable, follow these steps:
- Sit them up straight and ask them to look down at the floor. Tipping their head back makes it more difficult to swallow.
- Have your child take a few sips of water (or their favourite drink) to ‘practice’ swallowing
- When they are ready, put the tablet onto the centre of their tongue and ask them to take a big sip of their drink while looking at the floor.
For some children, this will be simple and easy. Others will find it distressing at first, while others will cough the tablet back up (especially if they have a sensitive gag reflex). Whatever your child’s reaction, stay calm and reassure them. If they swallow it first time, praise them and give them a reward (ice cream always works well). If they don’t manage it, tell them it’s OK and that you’ll try again later. If they’re struggling, you can try giving them water through a straw – this helps some children by getting them to focus on something else other than the tablet in their mouth.
When To See A Doctor
Most of the time your child will learn to swallow tablets properly in their own time, without too many problems (besides the odd tantrum perhaps). With a little practice and patience, most children get the hang of this new skill. But some children might find it harder, and you might need to seek some professional advice. For example, if:
- Your child is extremely anxious about new medicines or new experiences
- Your child has had a bad prior experience (like gagging or vomiting) when trying to swallow a pill
- Your child has developmental delays, oral problems (like speech problems or issues with certain textures), or behavioural problems.
If this is the case, then a doctor may be able to offer support, advice and specialist help if you need it.
When you’re trying to help your child learn how to take tablets, you need to be ready for the moment they feel comfortable making the attempt. This means you need to have your ‘equipment’ on hand so that you don’t cause any delays during this moment of confidence as you search for tablets and glasses. That’s where the Medi-Redi medicine storage timer comes in very handy. This unique gadget not only gives you a safe, portable place to store your medicines, but it helps you track what medicine(s) you have given and when, so you never have to worry about missing a dose as in the case of antibiotics. There is even an alarm and a clear indicator light that blinks green when it’s safe to give another dose.
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