Expert Parenting Advice
Practical parenting tips and advice from experts around the world

How to convince your child to take their medicine

Don't try to talk them out of their fear. Instead, show them that it is normal to feel that way.

A few weeks ago, my son had a very high fever and sore throat.

We took him to the doctor.

"Strep throat," he diagnosed. "He'll have to take antibiotics."

My son has never had to drink antibiotics before. He took a small sip, and then immediately spit it out.

"It tastes like hand-sanitizer! Why did they give me medicine that tastes like hand-sanitizer!"

Now, my son has never been happy taking medicine. Getting him vaccinated was a major undertaking, requiring several nurses and outrageous promises of future toys and sweets.

But luckily this time I was a bit more prepared. You see, I had recently spoken to parenting coach and author of My Big Emotions, Heather Lindsay.

Because she is an expert at helping kids deal with difficult emotions, I asked Heather for some advice on how to help my son deal with his fear of vaccinations and medicine.

Heather said:

We as adults understand we need a vaccination because it's going to help us keep us safe, stop us getting sick, stop us ending up a hospital.

And so, we can rationalize the discomfort of going to the doctor and getting a needle, and the pain, and the uncertainty of any side effects and everything. So we go and we bear with it and we get the flu jab and we have the sore arm, and we might feel a little bit off for a couple of days, but we know we did the right thing.

But a child doesn't understand all of that. And so, there's a lot of fear that can come up. Then parents go “But this is the right thing to do, we need to do it to keep you safe.” Well, kids don't understand what that means.

Heather Lindsay

Heather then explained what you should not do:

You should NOT try to talk them out of their fear. It does not help telling them "there's nothing to be afraid of" or "it's not going to hurt" or "it won't taste that bad". Because it will hurt, and it will taste bad, and lying to them only damages your credibility.

Instead, Heather shared how you can help your child organise their thoughts about their fears, and how you can normalize their fear for them, to show them that it is normal to feel that way.

The end result: two days later, my son was taking his antibiotics on his own, without us having to pressure him at all. He still did not enjoy it. In fact he hated it. But he took pride in his ability to overcome his own fear and resistance. I was so proud of him.