What to Do When a Toddler Refuses to Take an Antibiotic

Few things frustrate a parent more than trying to get a recalcitrant toddler to take antibiotics when he's sick. Sneaking antibiotics into food, forcing a syringe-full down your toddler's throat at unsuspecting moments and straight-out bribery can all end with a child wearing his antibiotic on his shirt. But parenthood is all about learning to do the impossible; in most cases, you can manage to get your toddler's medicine into him without ruining your relationship for life.

Disguise It

Hiding your child's medicine in food is a time-honored and often successful way to get him to take it. Choose a food that's easily mixed with the antibiotic; applesauce, yogurt or other foods with this consistency are ideal. Don't mix the antibiotic into a big dish of food; put it in just a spoonful, or you won't be able to gauge how much your child got if he doesn't finish the bowl. If you put medicine in a bottle or cup, put it in a small amount of liquid, for the same reason. Choose strong-tasting foods to disguise the taste; ask your doctor if it's okay to mix the antibiotic with foods first.

Give Him a Choice

If your toddler is old enough to make a choice about his medicine, offer him one. Ask him if he wants it in a syringe by itself or mixed into food. Would he like sips of water between squirts? Does he want to take it before or after lunch? Toddlers are all about control, so offer him choices. Pediatrician Dr. Claire McCarthy of Boston Children's Hospital suggests following up medicine with something very sweet, such as a spoonful of chocolate syrup. Consider a reward chart for taking his medicine without a big fuss, with a reward of his liking at the end of the ordeal.

Stay Patient and in Charge

Deciding to shove the antibiotic down your toddler's throat five minutes before you have to pick up his sister at nursery school is probably not wise. He'll sense that you're impatient, in a hurry and overly anxious to get him to do this, which is a set-up for his deciding this is the perfect time to exercise his new-found independence. Give the antibiotic at a time when you can relax, remain calm and firm and give him some choice over the circumstances. But remember -- you're still the parent. Explain to him why he needs the medicine to the level of his understanding, but don't make it sound like taking it is an option if it really isn't.

When All Else Fails...

If you absolutely, positively, can't get oral antibiotics into your toddler, talk to your doctor about alternatives. It's possible to give antibiotics in a single injection rather than a daily oral dose. A few moments of pain and screaming might be worth the guarantee that your toddler will get the treatment he needs. The downside to injectible antibiotics is that if your child has an allergic reaction, it might be more severe, pediatrician and Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University Dr. Roy Benaroch warns. Drug allergies can occur at any time, even if your child has previously taken an antibiotic without any reaction, the Merck Manual warns 2.

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