When Your Child Needs Medication

image A sick child—could anything be worse for a parent? As your child sniffs, sneezes, and runs a fever, you often feel helpless. But there are things you can do to help your child get on the path to recovery.

Questions to Ask the Doctor

The first step is to ask questions at the doctor's office, especially regarding prescribed medications. It is your right and your responsibility to be an informed parent. You may want to bring a notepad so that you can write down all the information.

  • What is the name of the medication and how will it help my child?
  • Is the medication available in both brand name and generic versions, and is it all right to use a generic form of the medication? What is the name of the generic version? Is it all right to switch among brands, or between brand name and generic forms?
  • What is the proper dosage for my child? Will the dose change with growth?
  • What if my child has a problem with the pill or capsule? Is it available in a chewable tablet or liquid form?
  • How many times a day should the medication be given? Should it be taken with meals, or on an empty stomach? Should the school give the medication during the day?
  • How long must my child take this medication? If it is discontinued, should it be done all at once or slowly?
  • Does my child need to be monitored while on this medication and, if so how and by whom?
  • Should my child have any lab tests before taking this medication? Will it be necessary to have blood levels checked or have other lab tests during the time my child is taking this medication?
  • Should my child avoid certain foods, other medications, or activities while using this medication?
  • Are there possible side effects? If I notice a side effect—such as unusual sleepiness, restlessness, fatigue, hand tremors—should I notify the doctor at once?
  • What if my child misses a dose? Spits it up?
  • How well established and accepted is the use of this medication in children or adolescents?

Helping Your Child Take Medication Safely

A child should never be left alone to take medication. An adult should always be involved. Here are some tips to help you give medication to a child safely:

  • Read the paperwork that comes with the prescription.
  • Be sure the doctor knows all medications, including over-the-counter medications and herbal and vitamin supplements, your child takes.
  • Talk to your child's doctor about allergies to medications.
  • Read the label before opening the bottle. Make sure you are giving the proper dosage. If the medication is liquid, use a special measure, a cup, a teaspoon, a medication dropper, or a syringe. Often a measure comes with the medication. If not, ask your pharmacist which measure is most suitable to use with the medication your child is taking. Don't use teaspoons or tablespoons from your kitchen. These are will not give you accurate dosages.
  • Never increase or decrease the dosage or stop the medication without consulting the doctor.
  • Don't give medication prescribed for one child to another child, even if it appears to be the same problem.
  • Keep a chart and mark it each time the child takes the medication. It is easy to forget.
  • If you have a smartphone, consider downloading an app that will remind you when your child needs their next dose.

Make sure to keep all medications in child-proof caps, and store them in a locked cabinet out of your child's reach.

Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection, such as a cold or the flu. Look at labels to make sure that any over-the-counter (OTC) medication doesn't contain aspirin.

The US Food and Drug Administration recommends not using OTC cough and cold products in children under 2 years old and supports not using them in children under 4 years old. Talk to your child's doctor or pharmacist before using any medications.

When Your Child Needs to Take Medication to School

Sometimes your child will need to take medication while at school. Each school has a policy on how it deals with delivering medication to students. Make sure you call the school and speak with the school nurse or principal to find out the school's medication policy. Here are a few standard guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Take the medication to the school yourself. Do not send it in with your child. Give it directly to the school nurse or the person responsible for handling the medications.
  • You must request in writing for prescription and OTC medication be given to your child at school.
  • If your child needs OTC medication at school, put a limit on how long your child can take the medication.
  • All medications must be in the original container, with all original labels.
  • Information on the container must include the name of the drug, dosage, route of administration, and the time interval of dose. Prescriptions must include the student's name and the name of the prescribing licensed healthcare provider.

Remember, you and your child's doctor are working toward the same goal—your child's health and well-being.


Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics

The National Association of School Nurses


About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children

The College of Family Physicians of Canada


How to give your child medicine. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/how-to-give-your-child-medicine. Updated October 2013. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Medication safety tips. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/medication-safety/Pages/Medication-Safety-Tips.aspx. Updated September 15, 2015. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Medications: using them safely. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/medication-safety.html. Updated January 2015. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Murray RD, Gereige RS, Lamont JH. Policy statement—guidance for the administration of medication in school. Pediatrics. 2009;124(4):1244-1251.

Upper respiratory infection (URI) in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T903639/Upper-respiratory-infection-URI-in-children. Updated March 3, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Last reviewed June 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 6/9/2017