If you wait too long, pill-swallowing can becomes a huge issue for a child.
By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
I’ve always been a proponent of teaching children how to swallow a pill. In fact, I think I taught my boys this skill before they were 5 years old, mainly because I was tired of trying to find the measuring cup or syringe for the liquid medicine, which often didn’t go down “like spoon full of sugar,” even though we sang the song during dosing.
By the time one boy had learned to swallow a pill, the other two, as competitive as they were, decided that they too could do it, even the 2-year-old. So, based on that experience, I’ve been encouraging young patients to practice swallow pills, even teaching them in the office with my stash of mini M&M’s and Tic Tacs! I also know that if you wait too long, pill-swallowing can becomes a huge issue.
Well, who knew that someone would actually study “pediatric pill swallowing”? In a recent Pediatrics article, the authors looked at different pill-swallowing interventions. They found that up to 50 percent of children were unable to swallow a pill. Reasons include fear, anxiety and intolerance to unpleasant flavors.
The authors reviewed five articles published since 1987 which found that behavioral therapy, flavored throat sprays, specialized pill cups and verbal instruction with correct head and tongue positioning all helped children swallow pills. They also found that pill-swallowing training for children as “young as 2 years old helped increase the likelihood of ease of pill swallowing.”
As with many skills, the sooner you young child can master the art of pill swallowing, the better. It will make everyone’s life easier.
My final caveat: I always tell my patients who are older “non-pill” swallowers, “you can’t possibly operate a motor vehicle if you can’t even swallow a pill!” This is usually a huge motivator for the “late swallower” and they meet the challenge.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)
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This column was printed in the July 26, 2015 - August 8, 2015 edition.