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Medications – when used properly – can restore health and relieve pain. Misused – they can result in serious injury to your child.

One out of every 67 children is brought to an emergency department for an unintentional medication overdose by the age of five! Children act quickly - and poisons also may act quickly when ingested.

As parents, we can create a safer environment at home to keep our children safe from poisoning. These questions can help guide you in safely and effectively giving medicine:

Have you identified all the potential substances of danger in your home?

 Many substances - including vitamins and other over-the-counter products can be dangerous if your child ingests them.

  • Pills may look similar to popular candies.
  • Household cleaners may resemble juice or soda pop.

Are all of your medicines out of reach?

Most preschoolers can open a childproof cap. Keep all medicine out of reach.

  • Pick a location that is out of reach - and preferably out of sight for your children.
  • If you have visitors, keep any medication they have out of reach of your child (preferably locked).
  • If you have to answer the door – take your medication with you if it is not out of reach or secure.
  • Put your medication away after every dose. Even if you have to give the medication again in a few hours - do not leave it accessible.

Most preschoolers can open a childproof medicine cap!

Are you using a spoon for measuring?

Use only a medicine spoon or syringe clearly marked with the type of dosage you are giving.

  • One teaspoon = 5ml(cc).
  • Kitchen teaspoons are not accurate; they hold 2 – 7 ml (cc), so it possible to over – or under-medicate your child.

Can you clearly see the dosage?

Measure the medicine in a well-lit area. Even if it is a middle-of-the-night dosage, it is best to measure the dose where you can clearly see the amount you are giving.

Are instructions clear for anyone giving medication?

Be sure anyone giving your child medication is clear on the dosage and timing.

  • Clearly communicate the dosage and timing to anyone responsible for medicating your child.
  • Ensure they can clearly see the measuring marks on a medicine spoon or syringe.

Is the dosage timed correctly?

The timing of medication can ensure that it is effective - or dangerous. Follow these guidelines for timing your medicine doses:

  • Medicines given several times a day should be spaced as evenly as possible.
  • If you miss a dose - check with your pharmacist or physician for recommendations.
  • Complete the entire course of medicine to ensure the disease is gone.

Are you giving a medication ‘mixture’?

Some over-the-counter products have multiple medicines mixed in. Be certain you understand all the ingredients in a medicine.

  • Some have a fever reducer – so do not give one separately or you could unintentionally overmedicate your child.
  • Simple, single medications are usually best to avoid confusion.

What do I do if my child refuses to take it?

Some medicines have a bad taste. However, the medicine can’t work if you can’t get your child to take it. Here are a few ideas to help:

  • Have flavor added by the pharmacy
  • Have your child suck on a popsicle beforehand to numb the taste
  •  If you mix medicine into food or drink, ask your pharmacist or health care provider if this will dilute its strength.
  • If medication is mixed with food or drink – ALL of it must be taken.
  • Never tell your child a medicine is 'candy' to get the child to take it. Clearly explain what medicine is and why the child needs to take it to feel better.

Are there special precautions to take when traveling?

Keeping your medication safely away from your child while traveling requires a little pre-planning, and awareness of your destination. Try these ideas:

Keep medications in their original containers - with child-resistant caps. Travel medicine containers may not offer any child safety features.

In hotels, determine a secure place - away from children - where you can safely keep your medications.

At another person's home, ask where you can safely keep your medications to prevent children from reaching them.

Program the national poison control number into your phone so it is there if you should need it.


Medications can tremendously help your child get better. Give your child a little TLC and soon he will be back to himself.

Greg Severson, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest

Dr. Severson answers your questions about child development and parenting. One of the most gratifying aspects of pediatrics, for Dr. Severson, is watching an infant grow and change into a young adult. He is a natural teacher and he enjoys teaching parents how to provide the best care for their children. Dr. Severson loves kids and he is enriched by his interactions with them every day. He recognizes that children are unique and special. He hopes that his recommendations will help parents m ...

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