Getting Kids to Take Medicine for Coughs

Which is worse from a child's point of view: having a cough or swallowing cough medicine? While coughs are no fun, some kids might argue that neither is taking cough medicine. Taking steps to ease any angst around taking medicine can decrease stress for you and your child, while ensuring he gets the medicinal relief he needs.


1. Stay Positive

Kids are like sponges. If you approach medicine time by saying, “This won’t be fun, but you have to do it anyway” or with a frown on your face, kids are more likely to absorb that negativity and resist. Instead, focus on the positives, such as the fact that the medicine will help them get relief from cough and cold symptoms. With younger kids, Dr. Kimberly Giuliano of Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital in Ohio suggests focusing on positive emotions. In other words, provide younger kids cough medicine with upbeat energy and a smile. Older children, on the other hand, tend to respond better to reason and encouragement.


2. Offer Praise and Rewards

Once your child has taken cough medicine, praise her for a job well done. Let her know you’re genuinely proud of her. For added fun, work prizes into the mix. Give her a new book after each dose, for example, or let her hunker down with a favorite TV show or movie. For a visual way to track and see progress, place a sticker in a book or calendar for each dose consumed. This can be particularly useful for older kids, according to Giuliano.


3. Provide Choices

When kids are bogged down by a cough or cold they can feel as though they’ve lost control, according to the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. They may not be able to play when they want to or go to school and feel powerless over their symptoms. To help provide some sense of control and make taking medicine more empowering, try offering choices. Offer the choice of taking it before or after they get dressed in the morning, for example, and whether to take it from a spoon or cup. Consider letting your child take the medicine without your help but still under your supervision.


4. Keep Flavoring in Mind

It’s no secret that the flavor of cough medicine keeps many kids from embracing it. Let your child choose a flavored option, such as Delsym® Children’s 12 Hour Cough Relief in orange or grape flavors. You can also chase the medicine down with a special treat or meal your child enjoys, or mix it into a soft food such as pudding, applesauce or yogurt. With this technique, use a modest amount of the food to ensure the full dose is taken in.


5. Avoid the Tongue

If no amount of flavor enhancement will take the “ick” out of cough medicine for your child, aim to skip over the bulk of his taste buds. Use a plastic syringe or plastic dropper to place the syrup near the back or side of the tongue. If your child still resists swallowing, gently stroke the skin under his chin to ease the medicine down. This will also help prevent him from spitting out the liquid. When using this tactic, make sure your child is seated upright to guard against choking.


6. Focus on Fun

Taking cough medicine doesn’t have to be a trying chore. You can even turn it into something your child looks forward to. Rather than use a plastic cup or plastic syringe for each dose, use your child’s favorite cup or an action hero or princess spoon. Make sure you measure the medicine properly first to stick to the right dosage. Create a simple rhyme to say or song to sing as part of the process. Have your child pretend to give medicine to a doll or stuffed animal beforehand. If needed, try a variety of techniques until one works.



Maintaining a positive attitude, using flavor enhancements and other techniques can help make taking cough medicine more pleasant for kids.




  • kids swallow medicine
  • children cough-medicine tips
  • cold-medicine taste better