Article at a Glance

  • Make sure your child is developmentally ready.
  • Start with very small pieces of food and slowly build up.
  • Avoid begging, bribing, or threatening. Tension, anxiety, or negative associations will make it harder for your child to successfully swallow a pill.

Getting your child to swallow a pill for the first time isn’t always an easy task. Being sick can make children grumpy and uncooperative, and some children are more hesitant than others to try new things.

When children are younger you usually can get the medicine in liquid form or you can mash the pills up in their food. But if your child needs to take a slow-release pill or if the pill can’t be mixed with food, you have no other option but to get her to swallow it.

Here are some tips on how to make that pill easier to swallow:

Is My Child Ready?
Before you get started, you will want to make sure your child has developed the automatic swallowing reflex. Have your child fill her mouth with just enough water that her checks don’t balloon out. If she can then swallow it without dribbling, coughing, or gagging, you know she is ready. Usually children are ready around age 6 or 7, but some young adults still struggle with swallowing pills.

Start Small
When we are worried about choking, our throat will instinctively tighten up. So you will want to slowly build confidence. Start with a grain of rice and then slowly move up in size. You can graduate to small pieces of apple and finally to a tic-tac. Once your child can swallow a tic-tac five times in a row without any problems you are ready to move up to the actual medication.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be done in one sitting. If your child is getting anxious or has swallowed a lot of water, take a break and practice again later. Start with the last size your child was able to swallow successfully. Children do better when their first attempt is successful. If you have to back track a little, that is okay. The key is to do this gradually and with as little stress as possible. Try making it a game or offering incentives every time they graduate to a larger size.

Prep Tips
Swallowing a pill when your mouth is dry can be hard. Instead have your child drink a few sips of water first. Then place the pill towards the back of the mouth and remind your child to just let her natural swallowing reflex do the rest. Don’t toss the head back when taking the pill, but instead have your child dip her chin in towards her chest a little before taking a sip of water. If the pill feels stuck, just drink more water.

If placing the pill at the back of the throat triggers the gag reflex, try putting it on the tip of the tongue instead. When using this method, tilt your head back a little when swallowing the water so that it washes the pill towards the back of your throat.

This will be easier if your child has practiced with smaller pieces of food first.

Avoid Power Struggles
If your child is tense, anxious, or associates pills with negative experiences, these feelings can result in a more sensitive gag reflex. Bribing, threatening, or begging is likely to make things worse. Instead go back to using small pieces of food to build up your child’s confidence.

Other Tips
Sometimes using a cold carbonated beverage can help carry the pill down faster. Others have had success placing the pill at the back of the throat and then drinking the water with a straw. While practicing things can get wet, especially if it triggers the gag reflex. Doing it outside or in the bathtub will mean less mess to clean up later.

Share this article:

Teaching Your Child How to Swallow a Pill

Stay connected to your children’s health:

Want pediatric news, kid-friendly recipes and parenting tips?
Sign up for our patient parent newsletter:

Other great ways to connect: