Giving kids medicine safely can be dangerous if not administered correctly
Only give medications to a child in your care if instructed to do so by a parent or guardian. Giving too much, too little or the wrong medication can cause serious, even life-threatening side effects.
With a little knowledge and a lot of double-checking, you can give children medicine safely and prevent dangerous reactions.
What do I need to know about giving medication?
The name and purpose of the medication
How much, how often, and for how long the medicine should be taken
How the medicine should be administered (whether it should be taken by mouth; breathed into the lungs (inhaled); inserted into the ears, eyes, or rectum; or applied to the skin)
Any special instructions, like whether the medicine should be taken with or without food
How the medicine should be stored (room temperature, refrigerator, etc.)
How long the medicine can safely be stored before it needs to be discarded (e.g. asthma inhalers)
Common side effects or reactions
Interactions with other medications the child may be taking
What happens if the child misses a dose?
How to administer medication
For liquid medications use the following:
Syringes and oral droppers
DO NOT use standard tableware tablespoons or teaspoons because they are usually not accurate
What are the different types of medication commonly given to children?
Panadol ® is the brand name for Paracetamol, which is often used to relieve pain or to lower a child’s fever. A high fever can cause a child to be very irritable and have achy muscles or headache.
Claratyne ® and Zyrtec ® are brand names for common allergy medicines in Australia. Whether treating hay fever or accidental exposure to a food allergen, you may be instructed to give one of these antihistamines to a child you care for.
Medications for children come in different strengths and varieties, so read the label and follow the instructions carefully. Make sure you give children the right amount for his or her weight, not age.
Aspirin should never be given to young children because there’s a strong possibility of serious side effects.
Antibiotics work only on bacterial infections, not on viruses. Research suggests that children with viral infections such as colds or the flu are being prescribed antibiotics unnecessarily. Using antibiotics incorrectly can lead to side effects such as diarrhoea, dehydration and allergies.
Decongestants: many parents give their children decongestants to relieve cold and flu symptoms, but there’s little evidence that these actually work and can cause irritability, drowsiness or sleeplessness.
Inhalants: children with asthma or other breathing issues may use an inhaler or a nebuliser to administer medications that are breathed into the lungs. All inhalers should be administered in conjunction with a spacer, such as those pictured here.
What else do I need to know about medications?
Adult medicine isn’t suitable for children – their small bodies are very sensitive to medicine, and they need medications that have been specifically designed for their size and needs.
Always make sure you confirm the prescribed dose based on the weight of the child on over the counter medicines or follow directions on the bottle for the prescribed person.
Check with the parent or other professional (e.g. nurse on call) if you are concerned about multiple medications interacting with each other – there are some medications that cannot be taken together.
Make sure a child is never in contact with a medication that they have an allergy to.
Store all medications in a locked and hard-to-reach location.
Some liquids are designed to taste good so children will take them – but don’t let them have more than the correct dose even if they want more!
Many tablets are brightly coloured and can look like lollies to children. Never leave tablets in a place where a child might mistake it for a treat and put it in their mouth.
Seek medical attention if a child doesn’t react well to a medication
Looks more sick than before (more pale, lethargic and weak)
Has trouble breathing
Becomes drowsy or incoherent
Vomits persistently, or has frequent bouts of diarrhoea
Develops swelling, hives or a rash
Has a spike in fever
Is unconscious or non-responsive
But what if they don’t want to take their medicine?
Involve the kids in a role-play situation; take turns at being the doctor to teach them there is nothing to be afraid of and even turn it into a game.
Start by showing the child the actual amount of medication they are meant to take
Promise to read their favourite book, play their favourite game after they quickly take their medicine.
Give them positive words of encouragement, letting them know the medicine will help them to feel better.
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