Medication Safety For Children

What do I need to know about medication safety for children?

You need to know important safety rules before you give your child any medicine. You also need to know how to keep your child safe around all medicine.

  • Read the medicine label: The label will list the correct amount to give and explain how to give it. The label will also list dangers to avoid. Ask your child's caregiver or a pharmacist to explain anything on the label you do not understand.

  • Keep all medicine out of the reach of children: Put the medicine where children cannot see or get to it. Do not leave a child alone with any medicine.

  • Store medicine properly: Store medicine in a cool, dark, dry place if it does not need to be refrigerated. This will prevent the medicine from breaking down.

  • Keep each medicine in the container it came in: Many medicines look alike. The containers can help you tell them apart. You will also have the label available when you need to give a dose of the medicine. A medicine bottle will also have a childproof cap. Always replace the cap after you give the medicine.

  • Give your child the medicine as directed by his caregiver: Do not split or crush pills unless directed. Ask your child's caregiver or a pharmacist for instructions if you do not know how to give the medicine. If your child misses a dose, do not double the next dose. Ask how to make up the missed dose.

  • Make a list of your child's medicines: Include the amounts, and when and why he takes them. Tell your child's caregiver if your child is taking any vitamins, herbs, or other medicines. Ask if they could interact with any other medicine or food.

How do I give the right amount of medicine to my child?

The right amount of medicine is an important safety rule. Your child could have a bad reaction or get sick if he takes too much.

  • Check the label before you give a medicine: Do this every time to make sure it is the medicine you want to give.

  • Know your child's weight: The correct dose of many medicines is based on the child's age and weight. The medicine label will have a chart that shows the amount of medicine to give. If more than 1 child gets the same medicine, give the amount that is right for each child.

  • Measure liquid medicine accurately: Use the measuring tool that came with the medicine. If it did not come with a tool, use one that is specially made to measure medicine. Examples are oral syringes and marked dosing spoons or cups. These tools can be found at a drugstore. Do not use a kitchen teaspoon or Tablespoon to measure your child's liquid medicine. They are not accurate, so your child may get too much or too little of the medicine. Never give your child more than directed.

  • Give the medicine at the right time: Be sure you understand how often you should or can give the medicine. Keep a chart of when to give the medicine and when you gave it. Give a copy of the chart to every person who gives your child medicine. Take a copy to your child's school if he gets medicine there.

What should I not do when I give my child medicine?

  • Do not give any medicine to a child younger than 2 years unless directed by a caregiver.

  • Do not give your child 2 or more medicines with the same active ingredient. Active ingredients are the items in a medicine that make it work. They are listed on the label. Similar medicines may use the same active ingredient. Talk to your child's caregiver or a pharmacist if you are not sure about the active ingredients in a medicine.

  • Do not give your child another child's medicine or an adult medicine.

  • Do not hide medicine in food or crush pills unless your child's caregiver says it is okay.

  • Do not let your child think that medicine pills are candy.

  • Do not give your child any medicine to get him to sleep.

  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age: Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.

  • Do not give your child vitamins or supplements that contain iron unless directed by a caregiver. Too much iron can be harmful to your child, especially if he is younger than 3 years.

  • Do not use medicine that appears to have been tampered with.

  • Do not make your child vomit or take syrup of ipecac if he takes too much medicine.

What should I know about giving my child over-the-counter medicines?

You can get over-the-counter (OTC) medicines without a doctor's order. OTC medicines for children include fever reducers, pain medicine, cold medicine, and medicine for upset stomach or diarrhea. Give OTC medicines carefully. They can cause side effects. They may also contain the same active ingredients as other medications your child is taking. Always read the label and follow the directions. Talk to your child's caregiver before you give an OTC medicine.

What should I know about giving my child acetaminophen or ibuprofen?

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are given to reduce pain and fever. Too much of these medicines can be life-threatening to your child. Follow these safety rules to give the medicine correctly:

  • Do not give any child more acetaminophen than directed. Too much can cause life-threatening damage to his liver.

  • Do not give acetaminophen to any child younger than 2 years unless directed by his caregiver. Ask your child's caregiver for the correct dose for your child younger than 2 years.

  • Do not give your child ibuprofen if he is vomiting without stop or is dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, sunken eyes, and crying without tears. Ibuprofen can damage your child's kidneys if he takes it when he is dehydrated.

  • Do not give your older child the infant drops form of these medicines. Infant drops are more concentrated (have more medicine in each drop) than the children's liquid form. He can get too much acetaminophen or ibuprofen if you give him extra infant drops. Read the label to find the right form of medicine for your child. If you have both young and older children, buy the children's liquid form.

What should I know about giving my child cough or cold medicines?

Give your child medicine only for his specific symptoms, such as coughing or a stuffy nose. Decongestants (for a stuffy nose) may make your child excited. Antihistamines (for allergies) may make him sleepy.

  • Do not give any cough or cold medicine to children younger than 4 years.

  • Do not give decongestants for more than 3 days. This may make his symptoms worse.

  • Do not give more cough or cold medicine than directed. Too much of this medicine can make your child very sick. It can even be life-threatening.

What should I know about giving my child antibiotics?

You have to have a doctor's order to get antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bacteria (germs), but they do not work on viruses. An example of a virus is the common cold. Antibiotics can cause side effects, such as a rash.

  • Do not give your child antibiotics that are old. Give only the antibiotics ordered by your child's caregiver for the current illness.

  • Do not save antibiotics to give your child the next time he is sick. Give your child all of the antibiotics ordered for him, even if he feels better sooner.

How should I give medicine to young children?

Use an oral syringe or dropper to measure and give liquid medicine to infants and young children. Slowly squirt a small amount of the medicine into the side of the mouth and let the child swallow it. Continue doing this until your child has swallowed all of the medicine. Do not squirt the medicine directly into his throat. This may cause him to choke.

What should I do if my child will not take his medicine?

  • Give your child something cold to eat or drink before or after you give him medicine.

  • If the medicine tastes bad, ask your child's caregiver if you can cool it in the refrigerator. If that does not work, ask if you can put the medicine in food or drink.

  • If your child spits out his medicine, wait a few minutes and try to give it again.

  • Do not punish your child for not taking his medicine. Be calm but firm when you give him the medicine.

  • If you cannot get your child to take the medicine he needs, have another adult try to give it.

  • Talk to your child's caregiver if none of the methods you try work.

What should I do if my child takes too much medicine or has an allergic reaction?

  • Too much medicine: The wrong medicine or too much medicine can be life-threatening. Call the Poison Control Center immediately . The telephone number is 1-800-222-1222 . Keep this number by every telephone in your home and on your cell phone.

  • Allergic reactions: Your child may have an allergic reaction to a medicine. He may have a mild sign, such as a rash. If the reaction gets worse, it can become life-threatening. Signs of a worsening allergic reaction include skin hives and itching, swelling of the face, and trouble breathing. Ask your child's caregiver for more information about the reactions that may occur with the medicine your child is taking. Ask what to do for mild allergic reactions. He may tell you to stop giving your child one of the medicines. Do not change your child's medicines until directed by his caregiver.

Where can I find more information about giving medicine to my child?

  • 24-Hour Nationwide Poison Control Hotline
    National Capital Poison Center
    3201 New Mexico Avenue, Suite 310
    Washington , DC 20016
    Phone: 1- 800 - 222-1222
    Web Address:
  • Consumer Healthcare Products Association Educational Foundation
    900 19th Street NW, Suite 700
    Washington , DC 20006
    Web Address:

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

Contact your child's caregiver if:

  • Your child misses a dose or will not take his medicine at all.

  • Your child is not getting better.

  • Your child has a rash, or his face or lips look swollen.

  • Your child seems very excitable and has a rapid heartbeat.

  • Your child has a headache or is dizzy.

  • Your child seems confused or is very fussy or irritable.

  • Your child is vomiting.

  • Your child has diarrhea with blood in it.

When should I seek immediate care for my child?

Seek immediate care or call 911 if:

  • Your child is wheezing when he breathes.

  • Your child has swelling in his mouth or throat.

  • Your child's eyes are sunken, or he cries without tears. He may have a high fever and be very thirsty.

  • Your child is unconscious (you cannot wake him), or he does not respond to you.

  • Your child has a seizure.

  • Your child has trouble breathing or stops breathing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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