Are you caring for sick kids?

Tips for giving children over-the-counter or prescription medicine:

As parents, you’re in charge of your child’s health. At times, infants, toddlers, tweens and teens may need medicine. This can be over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications. Kids may have to take meds for many reasons from relief of a cold to management of a chronic illness. Of course, medications can help your little one feel better. Yet, they can also potentially be harmful if not used properly. So knowing how and when to use medicines for children is important to maintaining their health.

Remember, children are not “mini-adults.” In fact, their bodies respond differently and breakdown medicines differently.

When and how to use medication for children:

  • Don’t diagnose your child yourself. Check with a healthcare provider to see if symptoms require medical treatment.
  • Give babies and children only medicines that are specifically indicated for their weight and age. Never give children adult medicines.
  • For liquid medicines, use the measuring device that comes with the medicine. Never use a kitchen spoon as a substitute.
  • Never use leftover medications. For example, pharmacists sometimes give more liquid medication than needed in case some is spilled or measured incorrectly. Properly dispose of left overs after your child completes treatment. Also, don’t give your child an expired medication.
  • Never give your child a medicine prescribed to someone else. Even if two people seem to have the same illness, they may require different drugs with different dosages and directions.
  • Don’t give more medicine than the label reads. It won’t help your child feel better faster, and it may cause harm.
  • Know your child’s weight. The dosages of some prescription and OTC medicines depend on child’s weight instead of age.
  • Don’t give medicines in the dark. This is often a problem because children get sick at night. It’s easy to make a dosing mistake if you can’t see well.
  • Don’t refer to medicine as candy. Saying medicine is “candy” may make it easier to get your child to take medicine. Yet, it may also encourage them to try it on their own.
  • Keep all medicine out of children’s sight and reach. Every ten minutes a child goes to the ER for medicine poisoning. Dispose of medicines safely so pets and kids can’t get to them. Ask for child resistant caps and install safety locks on cabinets and drawers. Check out more storage and disposal tips.
  • Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Yes, aspirin is approved for use for children 3 years of age and older. But, kids recovering from chickenpox or an illness with flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. It may cause Reye’s Syndrome potentially leading to liver failure. It may be life threatening.
  • Think before treating. If your child’s symptoms are not bothering your child, you may want to avoid treatment. For instance, cough and cold medicines treat only the symptoms. These drugs will not treat the underlying disease. More importantly, such meds may have serious side effects including overdose in children under 2 years old.

Set a good example for proper and safe medicine use in children or sick kids:

Your children learn by watching you so treat medicines with care and take them only when necessary. If you have young children, don’t take 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’s not something they should take themselves. Put the toll-free Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222) in your phone, on your refrigerator or another place in your home where caregivers can see it. The Poison Help line is not just for emergencies. They can also help you with knowing how and when to use medicines for children.

When and how to select 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 for knowing how and when to use medicines for children, 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 have the same ingredient. For instance, 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.
  • Refer to the Toolkit: Safe medicine use for families, an educational toolkit for parents with more tips and information.

Learn more:

Additional resources:
Toolkit: Safe medicine use for families