Why is it hard for children to take medications?

Hardly anybody likes taking medications. They are a hassle to remember, and taking them may be embarrassing or may disrupt other, more pleasant activities. When a health care professional recommends a treatment, they assume that the patient will follow their instructions. This is called "adherence." It's common for people not to take medications as prescribed, however, for many reasons.

  • One important reason is that the patient and family have not been involved in planning the treatment. They should be told about the possible choices of therapy, their benefits, and the common minor or troublesome side effects, as well as the rare but serious adverse effects of seizure medicines. Communication is the key.
  • Medication schedules may be too complicated. A plan that's easy to follow, such as taking a dose just once or twice a day, is also critical in improving adherence.
  • Young children may require adaptations in giving their medicine to ensure that they take it all. It may be necessary to crush the pills and put the powder in the child's favorite foods, or to give the child a small reward if he or she takes the pills.
  • Children may refuse to take pills. Often the medicine is seen as the visible reminder that they have seizures or that something is 'different'. 
  • Medicines can be expensive!

How can I make it easier for a child to take their medicine?

  • Talk to your child about why the medicines are needed. Even small children can understand the importance of taking their pills. Young children can be told that it will help keep them well. Older children can understand that they are taking their pills so they will not have seizures.
  • Teach children how to take the medicines. Parents may want to use themselves as an example. They can show their children why and how they take medications. They might take a vitamin so the children can copy their behavior. Children love to imitate their parents. Caution: Keep all medications out of the reach of young children.
  • Find a form of seizure medication that the child can swallow. If a child is having trouble swallowing tablets or capsules,
    • Ask if it comes in a chewable, sprinkle, or liquid form.
    • Have the child practice swallowing tablets or capsules by learning to swallow a whole M&M, Reese Piece or Tic-Tac candy with a chewed-up cookie.
    • Try placing a pill on the back of the tongue and taken with water or juice from a glass rather than bending over a drinking fountain.
    • Medication can also be mixed with a food or taken just when a mouthful of food has been chewed ("to a pulp") and then swallowed.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse what to do if your child:
    • Misses a dose of medicine.
    • Throws up just after taking medicine.
    • Is sick and can't swallow or hold down food, fluids or pills.
    • Needs to take another medication, to make sure it can be taken with the epilepsy medication.

Tips to help remember seizure medicines...

  • Keep medicine in a convenient spot where it becomes part of other daily activities; for example, near your child's toothbrush, or in the kitchen, for example.
  • Teach your child (or supervising adult) what times to take the medicine and set up an alert or reminder system. For example, set alarms on your phone or have preset text reminders sent to their phone. 
  • Get a pillbox and count out the right amount of pills for each day, then track whether they're taken.
  • As soon as children are old enough (for most children by age 9-11 years), they should be active participants in filling their medication box, with parental supervision.
  • If your child is older and not always with you or another adult when taking medicine, you might want to check to make sure it's being taken correctly. 
  • Make sure to refill prescriptions in enough time so that you don't run out of medicine. If you use mail-order pharmacies, call for refills early enough!

How can I make it easier for my child to take medicine when not at home?

When a child with epilepsy will be away from home, whether visiting the grandparents for the weekend or going to camp for the summer, it is essential to maintain the medication schedule.

  • Work with your child to organize a pillbox and teach him how to use this. Always make sure there's an adult overseeing the child's use of the pillbox. 
  • Make sure extra doses are sent with the child if they're going to be away for more than a day. 
  • Ask your pharmacy to give the pills in a blisterpak or bubblepack. ( There are companies who specialize in doing this, such as Medicine-on-Time, 800-722-8824)


Authored By: 
James W. Wheless MD
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Reviewed By: 
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Tuesday, August 27, 2013