Keep 'em laughing. Get children to laugh as hard as they can. Then when they're off guard, in the medicine goes, says Cheryl Boone of Astoria, New York, who employed this tactic with her two children. "You must keep them laughing after the big swallow, too. Don't miss a beat or you're caught!"
Hide it in food or drink. Chocolate syrup is good at masking bad tastes, says Ari Brown, MD, coauthor of Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Baby's First Year (Windsor Peak Press). "Mix the medicine with just a teaspoon of chocolate. It's like a spoonful of sugar, but goes down more easily." Note: Don't use this for babies younger than 6 months, and avoid honey (it can cause botulism poisoning in kids under age 1) and peanut butter (it's highly allergenic) altogether.
Also, check with your doctor or the pharmacist's handout about whether a medicine can be taken with food. Other favorite mixers include applesauce, pudding, gelatin, juice, and milk. Again, the key with this tactic is to use just a tiny amount -- say, a spoonful of food or just an ounce of liquid -- because the child must eat or drink it all, says Dr. Roth. For babies, mix the medicine with formula or breast milk only as a last resort. They often detect the medicine and may refuse their next bottle or nursing.
Give your child some control. "Kids ages 2 to 3 definitely want to be in charge," says Dr. Brown. "For them, the issue may be that they want to hold the spoon themselves." Give them choices, but the choice can't be to forgo the medicine. For instance, ask: Would you like to use a spoon or a cup? Do you want to take the medicine before you play a game or read a book? Allowing Hunter, 2 1/2, to choose where to take his medicine and with whom worked like a charm for a recent antibiotic, says Shannan Kiger. "He chose a favorite living room chair and Granddad's lap, and drank it all up."
Feed a friend first. "My son was given a stuffed dog when he had ear tube surgery last year and the nurses would take the blood pressure and temperature of the dog first," says Carrie Moore of Lake City, Florida, and mom of Phillip, 2. "So at home I give Ruff the medicine first, and then Phillip will take it."
Try a different form. In addition to liquids, medicines come in a variety of forms such as chewables and tablets. Perhaps you'll have better success with one of these. "A 2-year-old may be able to handle a chewable, provided she can talk a little and understand some directions. Parents must supervise the chewing and swallowing," says Dr. Roth. "Better still are the 'quick-dissolve' tablets. Once saliva hits them, they're gone." Another idea Dr. Brown employs is to prescribe the adult tablets that the pharmacist cuts in half. "Parents can pulverize these and then mix them with a bit of ice cream."
Offer a reward. "I'm not above bribery when your child is sick -- because it's a temporary thing," says Dr. Levine. You can give her a bit of candy, a juice or soda chaser, or let her watch a video. Of course, don't go overboard with goodies for every dose, says Dr. Brown: "With an antibiotic, you're talking about 20 doses." Some extra TLC from you, reading a story, or playing a game together may be a better reward. Heather Satlof of Avon, Connecticut, lets her daughter Lilli wear a princess crown when she has to take medicine: "She loves the royal treatment."
Acknowledge that it tastes bad, but will make them feel better. Sometimes the best policy is to tell the truth -- you can't claim it's not yucky when you're going to be proved wrong in a second. "We sit my 2-year-old, Andrew, on the counter and put the medicine in a big-boy spoon. We tell him that the magic medicine will make him feel better," says Tanya Rathbun of Wappingers Falls, New York. Likewise, Myriam Ward of Apple Valley, California, says her 16-month-old, Emily, cried if they tried to force-feed her medicine. "The best solution was to show the medicine to her and talk her through it," she says. "We let her know she's doing a great job."
Amy Zintl is a writer in New City, New York, and a mother of three.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.