Teaching kids to use medicine safely can mean the difference between life and death. Medications are valuable, but also poisonous if taken incorrectly without adult supervision. Therefore, the first kids health and safety rule of having medications in a home with children is to always have it out of their reach with child proof medicine caps on. The second rule is clearly telling your child that they are to not touch any medication without you present.

Beyond the ‘don’t touch’ rules, it is very important to teach kids how to use medicine safely before they are young adults out on their own or attending college. But, even though you should teach them to be independent with their medication, as long as they are kids they will need to take all medicine with adult supervision. This is an important distinction to make with your preteen and teenager, as they may feel your teaching them how to do it is permission to take medication on their own. While you want them to feel responsible for themselves, a sign of growing independence, this is an area where they need a supervisor until they are out on their own.

You should start teaching your child the difference between medicines and other things that look like pills or medicinal liquids – like some candies. Children as young as 3-years-old are able to make the distinction. Tell your young child that medicine is only for when you are sick and only mommy or daddy can get it for you.

Start allowing your child some independence in using and taking medicine when your kids are preteens. Read the labels together with your kids. Point out:

  • When they should take the medicine;
  • How much medicine they should take;
  • Special instructions on the label – like the colored tags that say “Take with food.”

Explain that you do not combine or mix medicines. Be clear that this includes topical rubs and over-the-counter medications.

You should show your older children and teens how to measure out liquid medicines using the correct tool given to you by the pharmacy or that came with the medication.

Listen to what the doctor and pharmacists tells you about the medicine you will be giving your child. If your young child is there, ask them to listen as well. If the medicine is for an older child, take them with you so they can practice going through the motions of getting medication and instructions on their own. If your child is an older teen, this is an excellent time to be their ‘advisor’ and guide them through getting their medication and checking the label.

Use teachable moments when instructing your children about medication throughout their life. The FDA has some suggested ages to teach specific instructions for kids on this chart: Lessons About Medicines To Teach Your Children.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration.