Tips for parents when giving children medicine

Sick kids? Parenting tips for giving OTC or prescription medications to your children

As parents, you’re in charge of your child’s health. From infants to toddlers to tweens to teens, sometimes your child may need to take an OTC or prescription medicine for a variety of reasons ranging from symptom relief of a common cold to management of a chronic and complicated illness. While medications can help your little one feel better, medicines can potentially be harmful if they’re not used properly. Knowing how and when to use medicines for children is an important part of maintaining their health.

Medication management tips for moms and dads treating sick kids  

  1. If you are unsure or concerned, don’t try to diagnose your child's problem yourself. Always check with a pediatrician, nurse or other healthcare provider if you're unsure whether symptoms require medical treatment.
  2. Give babies and children only those medicines that are specifically indicated for their weight and age. Never give adult medicines to children.
  3. For liquid medicines, use the measuring device that comes with the medicine. Never use a kitchen spoon as a substitute for the measuring device.
  4. Never use leftover medications. For example, pharmacists will sometimes dispense more liquid medication than is needed in case some is spilled or measured incorrectly. If you have liquid left over after your child has completed the course of treatment, throw it away. Keep an eye on the expiration date to make sure you're not giving an expired medication.
  5. Never give your child a medicine that has been prescribed to someone else, whether it was for an adult or another child. Even if two people have the same illness, they may require different drugs with different dosages and directions.
  6. Don’t give more medicine than the drug label says, even if your child seems really sick. It won’t help your child feel better faster, and it may cause harm.
  7. Know your child's weight, as the dosages of some prescription and OTC medicines depend on body weight instead of age.
  8. Don’t give medicines in the dark. This is often a problem because children get sick at night, and parents can make a dosing mistake if they can’t see well.
  9. Don’t refer to medicine as candy. While saying medicine is “candy” may make it easier to get your young child to take medicine, it may also encourage them to try it on their own.
  10. Keep all medicine out of children’s sight and reach; dispose of medicines safely so pets and kids can’t get to them. Accidental ingestion of medicines by young children account for a large number of visits to emergency departments each year. If you have a toddler, don’t forget to ask for child resistant caps on your medicines and install safety latches and locks on cabinets and dresser drawers, just in case there are ointments or other medicines or dangerous substances within reach. Get more information about medicine safe storage and disposal tips.

Set a good example for proper and safe medicine use

Your children learn by watching you, so treat medicines with care and take them only when necessary. If you have young children, avoid taking medicines in front of them so they don’t try to copy you. Teach your child that medicine should always be given by an adult and that it is not something they should take themselves. Put the toll-free Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222) in your phone and on your refrigerator or another place in your home where babysitters and caregivers can see it. Remember, the Poison Help line is not just for emergencies, you can call with questions about how to take or give medicine. 

Considerations when selecting the right OTC medicines for your children

As a parent, it can sometimes be overwhelming to pick the right over-the-counter medicine for a sick child. In addition to the tips above, special considerations for OTC use in children include:

  • Select a medicine that treats only your child’s specific symptoms. For example, you may not need a multi-symptom cold medicine if your child only has a cough.
  • Don’t use oral cough and cold medicines with children younger than 4.
  • Never use medicines to make your child sleepy.
  • Do not give your child multiple medications that contain the same ingredient. For example, some fever reducers (acetaminophen, for example) are also often in OTC cold and flu medicines.
  • Check the dosing directions to make sure the medicine is appropriate for your child’s age or weight.
  • Read and follow the “Drug Facts” label carefully for information on the medicine’s dosage, warnings, whether it is appropriate for children, and other essential information for the safe use of the medicine.
  • Toolkit: Safe medicine use for families—educational toolkit for parents with more tips & info sheets