How Do I Get My Child To Take A Supplement?

by kimberley Taylor

‘How do I get my Child to take a Supplement?’ is a question our Naturopath Kimberley Taylor gets 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, and limes.

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 – 30mL 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 children!

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 click here or call 03 5977 0117

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.