Things to remember when giving children medicine

giving children medicine

Infants and Children: Things to remember when giving children medicine

Children are more complicated than adults when it comes to medicine and not just because they are smaller. Children’s bodies react differently to the medications used to treat them.1 What’s more, many drugs cause reactions in the developing bodies of children that do not affect adults in the same way2 – and some of these reactions can be dangerous.

It’s important not to give children too much or too little medicine and to adjust the dosage depending on the child’s weight. Always follow the directions on pack and if you have any questions, contact your doctor.

The first thing to remember when giving your children medication is to only give medicine when it’s really necessary. Your pediatrician or other healthcare professional is your best guide for this. Often, providing home treatment, while letting a minor illness “run its course” is the best thing for a child. You can help by making sure they get plenty of rest and fluids and taking steps to make them more comfortable.

Important tips for giving medicine to kids

Most medicines are only safe and effective if taken at certain intervals and in specific dosages. If your doctor prescribes medicine or recommends over-the-counter medicine for your child, there are some important things to remember.

  • Keep all medicines out of sight and reach of children.3 Also, ask for child-safe packaging from the pharmacist for prescription medication, and always replace the caps on all medicine containers.2
  • Dosage. The correct dosage for prescription and over-the-counter medication depends on the child’s body weight,4 so be sure your doctor and pharmacist know how much your child weighs.
  • Directions. Make sure you know – and understand – the directions for how much medicine to give a child, how often to give it, and the length of the course.5 If a child is taking more than one kind of medicine, check the labels on each one to make sure the child isn’t getting the same active ingredient from more than one product.  If there are multiple caregivers, make sure everyone knows when and how much medicine a child has been given to avoid doubling up on doses or missing a dose.
  • Reactions/side effects. Find out the possible side effects for the medicine before you start giving it to your child, which is usually found on a package or a package leaflet. Then, watch for any unusual reactions.
  • Interactions. Make sure your pharmacist knows what other medicine your child is taking, and if there are any allergies in the family.
  • Finish the course – if so directed.  Antibiotics, for example, need to be completely finished, even if your child acts better before they finish the prescription.6 This is because any remaining bacteria can begin to multiply again, and the illness can return, if the full course of antibiotics is not taken.6 If your doctor or pharmacist says to take it all –take it all.
  • Only their own. Never give a child anyone else’s medicine.3 Even with the same illness, different people need and respond to different medication. Only your doctor knows what is best.
  • Measure correctly. If the recommended dose on a package is in a different unit (tablespoons, teaspoons, milliliters, ounces) than the spoon or syringe you have, don’t try to convert it. Don’t use any tool other than a measuring device that comes with the medicine or one that is recommended by a doctor or pharmacist. Also, don’t use the measuring device from one medicine to measure a different medicine. Your pharmacist can often provide precisely-marked spoons and syringes just for giving medicines.
  • Don’t use out-of-date medicines. Before giving a child any medicine, check the expiration date and do not administer it if it has expired. All expired medicines should be disposed of in a responsible manner.3
  • Always read and follow the label carefully


  1. British National Formulary. Prescribing for children. Edition 36, March 2010.
  2. World Health Organization. Model Formulary for Children. 2010. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  3. UK Pharmacy Healthlink. Think medicine safety: medicines are not child’s play. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  4. Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Pharmacists – the scientists in the High Street. Medicines for children. November 2004. Available at: Accessed August 2010
  5. Proprietary Association of Great Britain. Managing your pain effectively using over the counter pain relievers. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  6. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get Smart. Antibiotic resistance questions and answers. Available at: Accessed August 2010.