First of all, let me make sure that we are clear on the fact that I do not endorse forcing children to take unnecessary medications. Medicine should be dispensed judiciously. That said, there are situations when your child has to take an oral medication.

This recommendation is regarding liquids. Most children’s medications do not come in pill form, or if they do, they are capsules that can be sprinkled into applesauce or pudding. I have no idea how to “make” a small child swallow a pill, and I would recommend that if your doctor prescribes one, you find another medication that is similar but comes in a different form.

Most of our children have dutifully slurped down their medication. However, there was a time when the children were too young to persuade.  And for my son with autism, that time is still now. The only problem is, now that he’s almost 4, he is much more wiley at resisting our efforts to slip nasty liquids down his throat.

Before administering any medication, my first two questions would be, “Is it necessary?” and “Is there a natural remedy we could use instead?”  If it is indeed necessary and you have no natural substitute, then you may have little choice but to give the medication. Ideally, you can explain the necessity to your child and then give them control of the dispenser. Something pleasant to “wash it down with” can be very motivational. If the medicine isn’t too icky, some children become quite compliant when they realize they will be in control of drinking it. I can say that as an adult, situations are much scarier when I feel like something is being done “to me” rather than “for me”.

Figure out what your child likes to take their medicine from — cup or syringe. Syringes can be novel, but occasionally frustrate children that lack the motor skills to smoothly depress the plunger.

Despite your best efforts, and anything Mary Poppins might have to say about a spoonful of sugar, there may still be a situation where ultimately you have to “force” your child to take their medicine. I’m sure you’ve been there. The child decides it ain’t happenin’, so the adult does their best to squirt the medication into the child’s mouth, hoping they don’t spit it out. We’ve had nurses tell us to angle toward the cheek, but I can’t say that always works. My son is able to spit out anything from any corner of his mouth.

Here’s the only method we can use on him when he absolutely refuses to take his medicine voluntarily.

First, let me tell you it involves two people.

Got your two people….? Good. Ok.

One person holds the the child firmly (but carefully) in their lap. You will probably need to hold their arms down. This is sometimes best done by criss-crossing their arms across their front. Make sure their head is firmly against the person’s chest, so they can’t lean back their head.

The second person puts medicine in a medicine cup. Hold the cup to the child’s lips, making sure it is inside their mouth (be careful not to bump their gums!) tilt it ever so slightly so the liquid will drain toward their mouth, and then hold it there. That’s it. They will eventually have to swallow it. If they try to spit it out, it will just go back up into the cup and drain back down. Usually what happens is that they are already so mad or upset that they gradually sputter it in without noticing.

If you find yourself at wit’s end, perhaps this little trick will help!


Do you have a kid who refuses to take medicine? Have any techniques to share?


Annie Beth Donahue is the founder of Signposts Ministries and the mother of four children, and each of them have special health needs. Annie Beth is a specialist in musical therapy and a talented singer. She and her husband, Brad, live near Charlotte, North Carolina.