Tips for Swallowing Pills

Health Writer

While medication for ADHD comes in different forms today - pills, patches or liquid - many parents still struggle each morning with getting their child to swallow a pill. For many, the fear of gagging causes the throat to restrict, making them unable to swallow the pill. For others, it doesn't seem right to swallow something without chewing first and their mind fights swallowing the pill.

The following are some tips to help your child learn how to swallow a pill:

Use small pieces of food and insert the pill into the food. For example, you can cut a small gummy bear (or your child's favorite gummy) open similar to a hot dog roll. Then place the pill inside and have your child swallow the gummy. Swallowing a piece of candy doesn't seem as frightening as swallowing a pill.

Practice swallowing pills by using small pieces of candy. Cut up a M&M to the size of the pill and use it to practice. Small "dots" used for cake decorating also work. The good thing is, the candy will melt if you are having a hard time swallowing it. If needed, start with very small pieces and work your way up to the size of the largest pill your child regularly takes.

Tilt your head forward, not backward. Tilting your head backward actually tightens the throat muscles and can make it more difficult to swallow. While it may seem uncomfortable to swallow with your head tilted forward, it does help the throat stay open.

Try drinking a carbonated beverage instead of water while taking a pill. For some, drinking a carbonated beverage (soda or sparkling water) helps. According to "GoAskAlice" at Columbia University, drinking it straight from the bottle is best.

Have your child take a few sips of water before swallowing the pill. This can help hydrate the throat and make it easier for the pill to go down. Or, you may want to have your child take a sip of water without swallowing and then add the pill to the liquid.

Experiment with different liquids. Thicker liquids, such as milkshakes, slow down swallowing but may also "hold" the pill within the liquid better and help it go down. Use different liquids until you find one your child finds comfortable.

Use soft foods, such as pudding, applesauce, peanut butter, jello or yogurt and place the pill on a spoon with the food and have your child swallow the spoonful. Since these foods aren't normally chewed, your child may find it easier to simply swallow the pill with the food.

Use relaxation techniques. If your child's throat is nervous about swallowing pills, his or her throat may constrict from anxiety. Take a few minutes before swallowing the pill to relax. Have your child take a few deep breaths to help relax before starting.

Try placing the pill in different spots. Some people find placing the pill on the back of the tongue works best, but for others, this starts the gag reflex. Try different positions, such as under the tongue, at the back of the mouth or the tip of the tongue.

Blow slightly into your child's nose. This causes automatic swallowing. Make sure your child knows that you are going to do this and practice a few times without swallowing so he knows what to expect as this can frighten him and instead of helping will make him more scared of swallowing pills.

There isn't any "right" or "wrong" way to teach your child how to swallow pills. Use different methods until you find one that works. Normally, once your child has mastered swallowing a pill, and has managed to do it several times, you won't need to use any method, he will begin to automatically swallow the pill. Because the inability to swallow a pill is often caused by anxiety, stay calm and reassuring; if you become angry or frustrated, your child will see it as a very negative experience. Instead, praise your child's efforts and successes.


"Help, I Can't Swallow Pills," 2001, Oct. 19, Go Ask Alice, Columbia Health, Columbia University

"Tips and Techniques for Pill Swallowing," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System