Getting Kids to Take Vitamins and Medication

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Kids with autism can be the pickiest eaters on the planet.  As a result, this pickiness contributes to their vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  Functional medicine doctors will often treat autism with therapeutic doses of supplements.  In addition, there are often medications such as seizure medications, antibiotics, or prescription strength vitamins to be managed. Doctors don’t tell you how to give these supplements and medications to your picky child… they just prescribe them.  Therefore, having strategies to get the vitamins and medications into your child is important.  

This article will cover:

  • Creative ways to mix the supplements and medication
  • Behavioral methods to get your child to agree to take supplements and medication
  • Swallowing Pills
  • Juicing

Below we have listed some tried and true creative ways to get supplements into your child. 

Creative ideas to get your child to take Vitamins and Medications

Purchase powders or capsules that can be opened and emptied out.
  • Keep in mind that some capsules cannot be opened and must be swallowed whole. Examples include:
    • Some sustained release capsules due to their special coating.
    • Betaine HCL because it is an acid and can erode the esophagus.
  • Be sure to follow instructions on the bottle, package insert, and doctor’s instructions.  
Mix vitamins into a small spoonful of food. Examples include:
  • Well pureed baby food 
  • Applesauce
  • Pearsauce (this is low phenol)
  • Dairy-free yogurt 
  • Dairy-free pudding
  • Maple syrup 
  • Local honey 
  • Ketchup
  • Jelly / jam
  • Mashed up banana
  • Nut butters 
    • This is especially good for hiding strong flavors
Teach your child to take a syringe filled with vitamins/medication 
  • This is one of the most beneficial things you can do.
  • Dissolve the supplement in water or a tiny amount of juice and syringe it into the mouth.
  • Make sure you aim the syringe into their cheek, not toward the throat. 
  • You can purchase plastic 20mL syringes from amazon
  • Let the child chase the syringe with a drink of water. 
Dissolve the supplement into a small cup of strong-tasting juice to hide the flavor
  • Examples include:
    • Pomegranate Juice
    • Grape juice
    • Apple Cider (Especially for herbs.  It hides the strong herbal flavor)
  • TIP: A straw helps because it allows the drink to skip the taste buds. 
  • Make liquids cold. The colder they are, the less they can be tasted.
Hide supplements in food
  • If you use this method, make sure your child eats the whole food. 
  • Fun examples include:
    • Hollow out a strawberry and put the powder inside
    • Hide small pills in a mini muffin or small bite of a muffin
Cook/bake supplements that are NOT heat sensitive into sauces, cookies or muffins
  • Calcium can be baked into muffins, pancakes, etc. 
  • Please check the manufacturer’s label to determine heat tolerance of a supplement. 
  • When in doubt, contact the manufacturer.
  • Cod liver oil and flaxseed oil cannot be heated. 
Trick to get your child to take Fish oil or Cod Liver Oil
  • Mix together a bit of fiber such as psyllium husk, water, juice, and lemon-flavored fish liver oil. 
  • Serve it with a straw.

Behavioral Methods to introduce supplements

It is important to incorporate the practice of taking supplements or medication into your child’s daily life.  The methods listed below are helpful.

Make a visual schedule that tells your child when the vitamins need to be taken.
  • Visual schedules can lessen the anxiety.
Make it fun 
  • “Who can finish their vitamins first?”
Compliment your child
  • “I think I see you are getting stronger! Look at those muscles!”
  • “Did you grow last night? It must be because you are taking your vitamins.”
Don’t let your child see your fear
  • Our kids can sense fear a mile away.  
  • If you are scared for them, they will know it.  
Make it your child's choice
  • Put the premixed juice in the fridge. Then have them get it out on their own.
  • Allowing kids more control over their situation may help.
Reward your child 
  • If your child takes their vitamins, give something small such as an enjoy life chocolate chip or teaspoon of local honey.
Teach and reinforce taking supplements
  • Practice makes progress!
  • ABA is a great place to practice.
Bribery
  • When all else fails, try bribery.
  • Allow your child to have some time on their tablet or watch their favorite TV show after they take their vitamins.

Teach your child to swallow pills

Kids who dislike the taste of supplements will be motivated to learn to swallow pills.  Generally speaking, kids should be at least ages 4 years old and cooperative to learn to swallow pills. Occupational therapy and applied behavior analysis therapy can help your child learn this skill.  To start, you can use small candies such as tic tacs, or purchase size 4 empty capsules from amazon. (These are the smallest size capsule.)


Here are some strategies that you may find helpful:
  • Put the pill in a small amount of applesauce and have your child swallow it together.
  • Have your child take a sip of water. Then, pop the pill in. Next, have your child lean forward and put their head down so the pill floats to the back of the mouth. Finally, raise head and swallow.
  • Put the pill as far back on the tongue as possible. Then, drink water. 
  • Try a Pill Glide Swallowing Spray.
    • This coats the throat so pills slide down easily. 
  • Try the Oraflo pill-swallowing cup
    • This specially developed cup helps kids learn to swallow pills. 
  • Use role modeling! Show your child a video another child swallowing a pill 
  • Learn the best way to teach your child:
    • This is a good video showing you how to teach a child to swallow a pill

Juicing may be a good option

One of the many possible reasons for picky eating is a lack of minerals and this problem is only compounded with continued restricted eating. Juicing allows the child to get bioavailable vitamins and minerals which may in turn, lead to better eating habits and your child accepting more foods and supplements.

Please note that this is NOT the same as buying juice from the store.  Store bought juice has been pasteurized and processed.  Due to this process, all the naturally occurring digestive enzymes are unavailable.   Therefore, using a juicer to juice your own vegetables and fruits at home is far more beneficial. 


Juicing may be a good option to start introducing vitamins and minerals to kids for the following reasons:
  • Many kids enjoy drinking their calories, so this method may be successful for some kids.
  • Although juicing strips the fruit and vegetable of fiber, the enzymes make the vitamins and minerals bioavailable and thus the juice can quickly make a difference in the child. 
  • Adding a fruit to the juiced vegetables makes the juice a bit sweeter.
  • Juicing greens can help with constipation.

Conclusion

There are numerous ways to help your child take their prescribed vitamins and medicines. Sometimes, you need to get creative.  Other times, you need to implement behavioral strategies.  And if these do not work, you can try teaching your child to swallow pills or implement juicing to get vital nutrients.  Stay positive!  Even a picky child can be a successful vitamin and medicine consumer.  

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