As any parent who has ever had a sick child knows, sometimes it takes more than a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Helping kids take medicine is never easy, but for children with cancer, it’s even more difficult. For these kids, taking medicine often means swallowing large pills or taking liquid medication that tastes downright foul. This might make a child gag, spit up or even become too anxious to take the medication. But when that medicine fights cancer, it is crucial to take every dose. We asked parents of children with cancer what tips and tricks have worked for them when trying to help their child successfully take their prescribed medications – here are their suggestions:
Give them small choices to make.
Many children with cancer lose their sense of control over themselves, so taking medications is a great time to help them gain some of that control back. Give them some options around how, when and where they are going to take their medicine. Which TV show do they want to watch while they take it? Do they want to take it before or after they put their pajamas on? These small choices can help your child feel more in control and lessen their anxiety around taking medicine.
Experiment with creative ways to mask the taste.
Many necessary medications, especially liquid ones, might leave a terrible taste in your child’s mouth. Do your best to mask the taste with something your child likes to eat – things with a strong, sweet flavor tend to work well, but it might take some experimenting to figure out what works best.
“I gave my son a Starburst before and after to overpower the taste.” – Stacey, mother to a childhood cancer survivor
Practice with things that aren’t the medication.
It might help your child to practice with things that aren’t medicine, especially if anxiety is an issue. If they have to take a liquid medication, practice with a syringe and fruit juice so the child knows exactly how the process is going to go. If your child needs to learn to swallow pills, start with tiny Nerds candies, then mini-M&Ms, then work up to the size of pills they’ll be taking. Practicing lets your child know what to expect, making the experience less scary.
Talk with them about why the medicine helps.
If your child is old enough to understand, explain to them why taking the medicine is good for them. Tell them a little about how it works, and let them know there is an important reason why they need to take the medicine, even if it tastes icky.
“We told my grandson the multiple medications were what super heroes took as children. He took 11 medications, including liquid chemo, besides injectables. Now 5 months clear, he truly is a super hero.” Sherry, grandmother to a childhood cancer survivor
Mix the meds with regular food, if possible.
Disguising the medication in your child’s regular food can both mask the taste and decrease the anxiety they may experience when having to take their meds. Of course, be sure to check with your child’s doctor to make sure this is ok, since some medications should not be taken with food or meals.
“If we were able to crush the pills my daughter had to take, we could crush them and mix them in a small spoonful of rainbow chip icing.” – Marian, whose daughter passed away from childhood cancer
Helping an uncooperative or anxious child take medicine is never easy, but with a little creativity and patience, you can figure out what works best for them. If you have a tried-and-true method of helping your child take their medication, we want to hear it! Share your tips with us at ChildrensCancer.org/share-your-story.
Additional Source: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles