Skip to main content

Medication Safety for Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

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 all medicine labels carefully, and follow all directions.

How do I give medicine to my child safely?

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach of children. Never leave a child alone with any medicine.
  • Read the medicine label each time you give a medicine. Make sure you are giving your child the correct medicine. The label will list the correct amount and explain how to give it. Do not use any medicine that has expired or appears to have been tampered with. Ask your child's healthcare provider or a pharmacist to explain anything on the label you do not understand.
  • Give your child medicine as directed by his or her healthcare provider. Never split or crush pills unless directed. If your child misses a dose, do not double the next dose. Ask how to make up the missed dose. Never give your child any medicine just to get him or her to sleep. Do not give more medicine or less medicine than directed. Continue giving the medicine for as long as directed by the provider.
  • Keep a list of your child's medicines. Include the amounts, and when and why he or she takes them. Tell your child's healthcare provider if your child is taking any vitamins, herbs, or other medicines. Ask if they could interact with any other medicine or food.
  • Do not try to trick your child into taking medicine. Never let your child think that medicine is candy. Do not hide medicine in food or liquid unless your child's healthcare provider says it is okay.
  • 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 healthcare provider or a pharmacist if you are not sure about the active ingredients in a medicine.
  • Put medicines away properly. You may need to keep medicine in a cool, dark, dry place. You may need to refrigerate it. Keep each medicine in the container it came in. Many medicines look alike. The containers can help you tell them apart. A medicine bottle will also have a childproof cap. Always put the cap back on after you give the medicine.

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

  • Give the right medicines for your child's age. Never give your child another child's medicine or an adult medicine. Do not give aspirin to children younger than 18 years. Do not give your child vitamins or supplements that contain iron unless directed by a healthcare provider. Too much iron can be harmful to your child, especially if he or she is younger than 3 years.
  • Check 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 or she gets medicine there.

What do I need to know about giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen to my child?

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 acetaminophen to any child younger than 2 years unless directed by his or her healthcare provider. Ask for the correct dose for your child younger than 2 years. Too much can cause life-threatening damage to his or her liver.
  • Do not give ibuprofen to any child younger than 6 months. Your child's healthcare provider will give you detailed instructions if you have to give your child ibuprofen.
  • Do not give your older child the infant form of a medicine. Infant drops are more concentrated than the children's liquid form. Your child can get too much medicine if you give him or her infant drops. Read the label to find the right form of medicine for your child.
  • Do not give your child ibuprofen if he or she is vomiting a lot or is dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, sunken eyes, and crying without tears. Ibuprofen can damage your child's kidneys if he or she takes it when dehydrated.

What do I need to know about giving cough or cold medicine to my child?

  • Do not give any cough or cold medicine to children younger than 4 years. These can cause serious side effects in young children.
  • Do not give decongestants for longer than 3 days. Decongestants for longer than 3 days may make your child's symptoms worse.
  • Do not give more cough or cold medicine than directed. Too much of this medicine can make your child very sick and can even be life-threatening.

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 or her throat. This may cause him or her to choke. The following tips may help if your child will not take his or her medicine:

  • Give your child something cold to eat or drink before or after you give him or her medicine.
  • If the medicine tastes bad, ask your child's healthcare provider 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 or her medicine, wait a few minutes and try to give it again.
  • Do not punish your child for not taking his or her medicine. Be calm but firm when you give him or her the medicine.
  • If you cannot get your child to take the medicine he or she needs, have another adult try to give it.
  • Talk to your child's healthcare provider if none of the methods you try work.

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

Call the Poison Control Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222 or call your local emergency number (911 in the US).

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing or stops breathing.
  • Your child is unconscious or does not respond to you.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child is wheezing when he or she breathes.
  • Your child has swelling in his or her mouth or throat.
  • Your child's eyes are sunken, or he or she cries without tears. He or she may have a high fever and be very thirsty.
  • Your child has a seizure.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child misses a dose or will not take his or her medicine at all.
  • Your child has a rash, or his or her 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 fussy or irritable.
  • Your child is vomiting.
  • Your child has diarrhea with blood in it.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.