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Giving medicine to kids

A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but that's probably not the best medical advice (sorry, Mary Poppins), especially when giving medicine to a child.

What is good advice, however, is learning how to give medicine the right way, at the right time and in the right amount. If drugs are given incorrectly, they may not work. They could even be harmful, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Here are some tips for giving medicine to kids.

Check it out. Before giving prescription medication to a child, make sure it's what the doctor ordered. Does the medicine look right? Is it the color and size you expected? If not, ask the pharmacist to explain.

When buying over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, check for signs of tampering. The safety seal should be intact. The package should not have any cuts, tears or other imperfections.

Read the label. To help keep your child safe, read the label before you open the bottle. Read it again after you remove a dose. And read it again before you give it to your child. Pay special attention to any brightly colored warning labels such as "keep refrigerated" and "shake well before using."

Also read any printed information that the pharmacist gives you. If label instructions are unclear or confusing, ask the pharmacist or your child's doctor to explain.

Give the right amount. Some parents mistakenly think, "If a little medicine is good, a lot is better or will work faster." But that is wrong. In fact, giving too much medicine could hurt your child.

Be sure to give only the prescribed or recommended dose of each medicine. Always follow the weight and age recommendations on the label. And never guess how much to give your child based on his or her size or symptoms.

Stick with the schedule. Prescription medications need to be given consistently and at the right times. Do not skip a dose of your child's medication. When you first get the medicine, ask the doctor or pharmacist what to do if your child misses a dose.

Use proper dosing devices. When giving liquid medicine, always use the proper measuring device—preferably the one that came with the medicine—to get the correct dose. A variety of measuring instruments are available. They include plastic medicine cups, oral syringes, oral droppers and special dosing spoons.

Never use kitchen spoons to give liquid medicine. One type of flatware teaspoon may hold twice the amount of another.

Measure with care. Read the numbers on the sides of dosing devices with care. The numbers can be small and hard to read. Take your time and use good light.

Don't confuse the abbreviations for tablespoon (TBSP or T) and teaspoon (tsp or t).

When using a dropper, measure at eye level and give it to the child quickly, since droppers tend to drip. When using a dosing cup, the cup should be on a flat surface at eye level.

Stay the course. If your child is taking prescription drugs, give the full course the doctor prescribed, even if your child feels better. This is especially true with antibiotics. Stopping too soon could cause your child to get sick again.

If you are giving an OTC medicine, it's usually fine to stop when your child feels better.

Talk to the doctor. If your child has a bad reaction to a medicine, tell the doctor right away.

Keep a record at home as well. Write down the name of the medicine, the dose, the illness that the medicine was given for, and the side effects that it caused.

Also tell your child's doctor:

  • About any drug allergies your child has.
  • If your child is taking more than one medicine at a time.
  • If your child is taking any herbal products, supplements or home remedies. These substances can interact with many prescription and OTC medicines.
  • Before you give your child an OTC cough or cold medicine. They may be dangerous if given improperly. They shouldn't be given to young kids unless recommended by a doctor.

Reviewed 12/4/2023

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