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candy of different sizes on a desk top including a skilttle, a tic tac and a sprinkle
June 28, 2016

How to swallow pills: Step-by-step video

Swallowing pills can be an intimidating task, both for kids and people who are new to taking medication. Check out child life specialist, Heather McKean’s, tips for learning to swallow pills in this video.

How to swallow pills

If you feel anxious when swallowing pills for fear that you’ll choke, gag, or the tablet will get stuck in your throat, you’re not alone. There are some techniques that could help.

  1. Find a candy that’s the same size as the pill you need to swallow. Find three more candies that get gradually smaller in size.
  2. Start with water. Take a small sip and swallow it without letting the water fill your cheeks.
  3. Place your smallest candy on your tongue, take a sip of water and swallow with the same technique.
  4. Repeat with each larger candy until you have mastered them. Finally, try with your largest candy.

Teaching your child to swallow pills

The strategy we recommend is the candy method described in the video.

Play the “Pill Swallowing Challenge Game” in the info sheet to keep track of progress. Check off the boxes together when you reach different levels (or place stickers for something even more child-friendly).

Have a glass of water or other non-carbonated drink ready and gradually work your way through different levels of the game. Each level involves swallowing a different size candy, starting with something as small as a sprinkle and working your way up to a skittle.

Stay positive and use encouraging language like “I know you can do this” and “ready, set, go!” when it’s time to swallow. Do the challenge with your child so you can swallow together. Remember, having too much water in your mouth can actually make it more difficult. Once they’ve completed a level, congratulate them on their success.

You may have to play the game a couple of times before they are comfortable swallowing pills.

Tracking sheet for the "pill swallowing challenge game"

Helpful tips

Drink lots of water before your pill (to lubricate your throat) and after the pill (to ensure it goes down your esophagus smoothly).

Some people prefer the “bottle method” to swallow pills: Place the pill on your tongue, wrap your lips around a water bottle and swallow both the pill and the water together without losing contact with the bottle.

Others prefer the “lean-forward method” to swallow pills: Tilt your head slightly forward toward your chest to swallow while your head is bent.

Others like to add the pill into soft foods like applesauce or pudding. But before cutting a pill into pieces or crushing it into powder, check with your pharmacist (some pills are time-sensitive and meant to dissolve in a certain way. Changing the pill’s original form can affect its effectiveness).

The important thing is that you’re getting your medication in an effective form. If you have still trouble swallowing pills, ask your pharmacist if it is available in another form, such as powder, cream or liquid.

Taking medication at school

Does your child need to take a dose or two of medication during the school day? Schools have an effective process for delivering medications to their students, but you as a parent can help too!

To set your child up for success:

• Keep your child’s home medication routine as similar as possible to their school medication routine.
• If your child has difficulty swallowing pills, try to teach them before school starts, or ensure that there is a liquid form of the medication at school.
• When possible, schedule doses so timing doesn’t interfere with classes or activities so your child doesn’t feel they are missing out.
• Always send the medication in the original prescription bottle and clearly identify any storage requirements, like refrigeration.
• Prepare your child to answer questions from peers. Offer them a script to use if needed, for example, “I need to take medicine to help my body use food for energy.”