Giving Prescription Medication to Your Child

Image for arixtraYour child is sick and has been prescribed medication by the pediatrician. Many parents have been in this situation, but before you start treatment, make sure you are familiar with the information on the medication label, dosage instructions, and potential side effects.

Reading the Label

There is a lot of information printed on that small medicine label. When the pharmacist hands you the medication, pay particular attention to the:

  • Name and address on the label and name of the medication. Make sure you were given the right prescription for your child.
  • Strength of the medicine
  • Dosage showing how much to take and how often to take it
  • Special instructions and warnings
  • Number of refills

Before leaving the pharmacy, check the medication itself. Does the type of medicine (liquid or tablet) match what the doctor talked about? If you are unsure, check with the pharmacist. While the pharmacy staff takes steps to avoid medication mistakes, they do occur on rare occasions. It is better to ask if you have any doubts.

Giving the Right Dose

Again, read the label carefully to find out how much medication to give your child and when to give it.

Tips for Giving Tablets or Capsules

If your child has a hard time swallowing tablets or capsules, putting the whole pill into a spoonful of pudding or other soft food may be helpful.

Another option is to crush the pill or open the capsule, then and mix it with juice or soft food. Check with your pharmacist before crushing a tablet or opening a capsule. Some medicines, such as time-released medicines, are specifically made to be taken as a whole pill.

If you do mix the pill with food, be sure to give your child the medication right away. Your child should swallow the whole mixture to make sure that the right dose is given.

If your child spits up the medication, call the pharmacist to find out if you need to give another pill. In cases where the child spits up just a small amount, another pill may not be needed.

Tips for Giving Liquid Medication

Liquid medication can come with a range of measuring devices, like droppers, spoons, or cups. Make sure that you use the device you were given with the medication. It is unsafe to use kitchen utensils to measure medicine because they are not accurate and could result in dosing problems.

Here are some common devices that come with liquid medicines:

  • Syringes—A syringe has measuring units on the side. Pull up on the syringe handle to measure the right amount. The medication can then be gently squirted into your child’s mouth.
    • Note: If the syringe came with a small cap on the tip, throw this cap away. It can be a choking hazard for children.
  • Droppers—Like the syringe, droppers have measuring units on the side. Once the device is filled with the right amount of liquid, you can gently drop the medication into your child’s mouth.
  • Cylindrical dosing spoons—These have a measuring device on one end and a spoon on the other end. You can measure the medication and then let the liquid flow into the spoon for your child to sip.
  • Dosage cups—These are for children who are old enough to drink without spilling. Place the cup on a flat surface when measuring the liquid to make sure you are pouring the right amount.

To make it easier to identify the correct dose, stick a piece of brightly colored tape on the measuring device at the level you are supposed to fill it to. Also, if it seems that your child is struggling to take the medication because of the taste, talk to the pharmacist. In some cases, liquid medicines can be specially flavored to mask the taste of the medication.

Knowing What Side Effects to Look For

Carefully read the information sheet that came with your child’s medication. This sheet will list:

  • Warnings—Special warnings will be in a black text box.
  • Possible side effects
  • Contraindications (reasons why the medicine should not be taken)

If you have any questions about the information listed on the sheet, call the doctor or pharmacist. Keep this sheet handy so that you can refer to it in case your child develops any new symptoms.

Some side effects may be mild, like upset stomach, and go away when the medication is stopped. But, if your child has any symptoms that concern you, do not hesitate to call the doctor right away.

Be especially aware of allergic reactions. Allergic reaction can be mild to severe. Signs can include:

  • Red, itchy skin
  • Hives
  • Swelling near the eyes or face
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting

If the allergic reaction is severe or life threatening, for medical help right away.

There is also a danger in giving your child too much medicine or the wrong kind. If this happens, call for medical help right away.

Recovering Safely

Remember to use the doctor and pharmacist as your resources. They are there to help your child recover. The safest approach is to go to the same pharmacy for all of your child’s prescriptions. This allows the pharmacist to keep track of any contraindications or interactions. Since interactions can occur with over-the-counter medicines, including herbs and supplements, ask the doctor or pharmacist before giving your child any product. By following these steps, you can provide the best care for your child.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor

United States Food and Drug Administration


Canadian Pharmacist Association

Health Canada


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Giving medications to children. University of Michigan, CS Mott Children’s Hospital website. Available at: Published April 2007. Accessed February 2, 2017.

How to give your child medicine. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated October 2013. Accessed February 2, 2017.

How to read drug labels. US Department of Health and Human Services Women’s Health website. Available at: Updated August 12, 2010. Accessed February 2, 2017.

Read the medicine label. Emergency Medical Services Authority website. Available at: Accessed February 2, 2017.

Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 3/15/2013