Q : How do I get my Child to take a Supplement?
‘How do I get my Child to take a Supplement?’ is a question our Senior Naturopath Kimberley Taylor get ask by many parents. Here are her top 10 tips…
One of the challenging issues in treating children is encouraging them to take supplements when
they are required. Naturopathic Medicine aims at finding the root causes of illness, then to make
changes and improvements to lifestyle and diet based on those findings. Sometimes when we need
to exert a physiological change in the body or replenish a deficient nutrient, we use supplementation
such as nutritional and herbal medicines. Some of these supplements, in fact many of them, just do
not taste pleasant.
For an adult we can endure the taste of these medicines knowing that they are necessary to address
our health issues. For a child, convincing them to take these medicines can often prove a challenge.
There are a number of strategies that I have learned or developed over the past 16 years in clinical
practice that I have found to be effective in making the process easier for all.
1. Start them young – When children grow up eating bitter or sour foods, rather than sweet
and salty, they are generally more likely to tolerate the taste of a bitter herbal tonic or a sour
nutritional powder. If your child is already 4 or above – move to tip 2!
Bitter foods include broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, asparagus, eggplant, ginger, sesame
seeds, grapefruit, mint, and artichoke.
Sour foods include – lemons, rhubarb, guava, Greek or natural yogurt, vinegar, sauerkraut,
2. Don’t make a face! – Remember that your child is watching you and reading your body
language. If you are hesitant about the supplement, then your child, most likely will be too.
Try to have a positive, no fuss attitude about taking the medicine. Once it is done, it is done.
3. Don’t use large amounts of liquid – some of the powdered supplements recommend mixing
the dosage in 100 – 200mL of water. For most children this is way too much liquid to have to
get down in one sitting. Some parents also try putting the supplements in smoothies,
however, if the child can taste it, often the whole smoothie is rejected. Try around 20 – 30
mL of water with powdered supplements first. They will be stronger tasting but the less
liquid means that they can swallow it in one go.
Powdered supplements can also be mixed into foods. Once again, I recommend putting the
powder in a small amount of food first, rather than in a large quantity or meal. This might be
2 tsp of mashed banana, fruit puree, nut butter, jam, or a chocolate-nut spread if they are
particularly nasty tasting (i.e; antimicrobial herbs).
4. Make it fun – What is it about the medicine that they don’t like? Is it the colour? Is it the
smell? Is it the taste? Each child is different and nobody knows your child like you do. If
colour is an issue put it in a patterned sippy cup. If smell is an issue get a peg and place it on
their nose (you can put one on yours too and make a bit of fun out of it!). My children are
very competitive so we used to survive supplementing in the Winter months by having
competitions on who can drink theirs the quickest. Curly straws, Neurofen syringes, special
tea cups… whatever works!
5. Disguise the flavour – I always recommend to try and see if your child will take their
supplement with water first. There is no point going to extreme measures if the child is
happy to take it this way. Once again, a small amount of liquid first. With herbal tinctures I
recommend using the Neurofen-type syringes. Draw up your child’s dose of herbal medicine
then draw up as much water is needed to make 5mL (the capacity of the syringe). Place this
in the child’s mouth near to the back of the throat and gently squirt in. If necessary, you can
use a piece of food, such as a slice of banana, a berry, or a cracker, as a ‘chaser’. If this
doesn’t work and your child resists, you can replace the water with fruit juice. I find a juice
which contains berry seems to disguise the taste, and the colour more effectively.
6. Set up a reward – If disguising the flavour of the medicine fails to work, the next go-to is to
set up a reward or a star chart for your child. 7 days of taking the required medicine may
equal a reward that they really want such as a small toy, a coffee date with mum or dad, a
trip to the park, or a ‘sleepover’ in mum and dads’ bed. Whatever it is that your child REALLY
wants. If your child is already used to these types of rewards and you know the medicine will
be a challenge, go with this option initially.
7. Educate your child – Older children, generally from around 8 onwards, can usually be
convinced to take their supplement with a little education. Often this is better absorbed by
the child when given by the naturopath, then followed up by the parent. Taking notes during
the consultation, then using similar language as your practitioner has, will give your child the
reasoning and assurance why they need to take the medicine. I try to make it clear to the
child how long they will need to take it by mentioning a date that is meaningful to them.
“You will only need to take this until the next school holidays/Christmas/your birthday” etc,
and by expressing the benefits to them of taking it . For example – “you know how you are
feeling really tired and it’s hard to get up in the morning? Well we need you to take this to
help you to spring out of bed in the morning and not be too tired to play with your friends”.
8. Use language to build self-esteem – some children are motivated by certain things in life.
Giving them motivation by making the benefits of the supplement exciting may help
encourage some children. An iron supplement might “make you stronger”, a multivitamin
supplement might make them “run faster”, an omega 3 fish oil supplement might “make you
super-smart at school”. Amazingly, this is enough of an encouragement for many younger
9. Teach your child to swallow a tablet – Once your child can swallow a tablet all of this
information is no longer needed! There are many video’s on YouTube that you can watch
with your child and encourage them to learn to swallow a tablet or capsule. To begin with
you can try the smaller capsules such as the vitamin D 1000iu capsules, which are a great
starting place. Once they feel confident with the action of swallowing the capsule, they will
eventually be able to swallow any sized capsule or tablet. (Please note I mentioned the
vitamin D capsules due to size, but supplements should never be taken without first
consulting a health care professional)
10. Persist! – Taking supplements is a new and sometimes stressful event for a child. They may
be worried that it will taste bad or may even pick up on your concern for their health issue.
Some supplements such as iron may be required for 3 months or longer, so it is important to
find a way to make it easy for both you and for your child. Many parents report to me that
although it may be a struggle in the first week, after some time it is the child who is
reminding them that they need to take their ‘special medicine’.
In most cases, taking supplements will be a short-term thing for your child. Although it may feel
like a struggle to begin with, most children will be able to take their required supplement after a
few days. Armed with all of these tips, I hope that the next time your child needs to take a
supplement, that it will be a stress-free event for everyone involved.
For more information or to book an appointment with Kimberley Taylor, please go to
www.peninsulaherbaldispensary.com.au or call 0359770117
This article is intended to be informational only and represents the opinion of the author. It is not intended to be used as medical advice and does not take the place of advice from a qualified health care practitioner in a clinical setting. Please check with your healthcare practitioner before embarking upon any of the treatments discussed.