The genius trick I used to get my stubborn six-year-old to take medicine

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock 

My six-year-old daughter is a delight – funny, smart and helpful around the house.

But the girl is stubborn with a capital S. And ever since she was a baby, she's refused to take medicine when she gets sick.

I've cajoled, I've bribed, I've threatened – and I've patiently explained over and over that taking a painkiller will help her to feel better. But all through this she has remained firm-lipped and uncompliant.

The one time I managed to get her to take medication was when she was prescribed antibiotics by her doctor for an infection when she was four. Twice a day for five days, I held this poor child down, pinning her limbs with my own, and forcing a syringe into the back of her throat – all while she screamed like she was fighting for her life.

It was horrendous for both of us (and probably our neighbours), and I knew I'd blown my chance then of ever convincing her again to take medicine. But I saw no choice – it had to be done.

Cut to two years later, and my daughter is more grown up and more open to negotiation and reason. While we were away on a beach holiday over Christmas,she came down with a touch of heatstroke and complained of a headache. I, of course, offered her a painkiller to help her to feel better while we got her hydrated and rested, which she steadfastly refused.

No matter how I explained it, or how I tried to dress it up, she refused to take liquid or capsules, so I was left to hold my girl while she cried for three solid hours about how much her head hurt (which surely can't have helped the headache, but try telling her that).

After a good night's sleep she recovered, and I was talking to a friend about my daughter's stubborn anti-medication stance, when my friend offered me a genius idea on how to teach my daughter to take pills.

The key is to practise while they're feeling well, my friend told me. And the secret ingredient is M&Ms.


Each day for a week, I've been offering my daughter an M&M to take like a pill. She happily swallows it, washing it down with water. As a reward, I offer her a second M&M to eat.

My two older children – both of whom are fine with medication – wanted in on this action too, which was fine with me. So each day we meet in the kitchen and the children "practise" taking medication, before enjoying their reward of a second M&M.

My daughter loves the novelty of it all, and she also loves that her brother and sister are doing it with her.

The treats are so tiny, the "junk food" aspect is negligible and – if you ask me – completely outweighed by the benefit of seeing my daughter keen to take her "pills" each day.

She's even started swallowing the second M&M with water rather than chewing it because she's enjoying the process so much.I have had to explain what we're doing to some friends and family though, because my children have somehow come up with the term "pill testing" for what we're doing. We've been in social situations where one of them will say, "Mum, can we do some pill testing when we get home?" or "We forgot our pill testing this morning!"


Now all that remains is for my daughter to agree to take a pill when she's actually unwell. Hopefully that won't be for quite a while. But I feel like, for the first time, I might be in with a chance.