Dear Dr. Bill: “How do I get my preschooler to take his yucky-tasting medicine?” Show Notes

Friday, May 25, 2012 Host(s): Dr. Bill Maier
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Dear Dr. Bill,

I need help with an issue I’m facing with my 3-year-old son.  He’s prone to get the ear infections that are so common for kids his age.  But he doesn’t like taking the medicine, and it’s an ongoing battle for me to force it down. 

My husband works nights, so he’s not able to help.  Since we don’t watch TV much, the only consequence I’ve found somewhat effective is setting a timer — if my son doesn’t take his medicine before the timer goes off, he gets no candy for the day.

I’m wondering if this problem is normal?  Is there anything else I can do?


Dear Angie,

This problem is definitely normal—when our kids were younger we struggled with the same issue.   Preschoolers aren’t mature enough to understand that yucky-tasting medicine is actually good for them, but they are old enough to refuse to take it and make your job a lot more difficult.

One option is to consult with your pediatrician about a more pleasant-tasting version of the medication.  Often a brand-name version of the prescription will taste better--sometimes the generic version wins the taste test. 

You can also ask your pharmacist if the medication can be mixed into milk or food.  I’ve found that chocolate milk can mask even the foulest-tasting antibiotic liquid.  As long as mixing the medication won’t alter its properties in any way, it’s a good alternative.

I like your idea of using a timer to motivate your son to take his medicine—I often encourage parents to purchase an inexpensive kitchen timer to back up their commands.  Many kids will hurry to complete a required task just so they can beat “Mr. Timer.”  Also, timers are remarkably objective and fair—they don’t lose their temper and they don’t respond to whining, complaining, or tantrums.  They simply respond with “tick, tick, tick.”

Thanks for writing Angie. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click on the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.

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