How to Teach Pill Swallowing: A Not-So-Scary Use for Halloween Candy


As most of my 9-year-old patient friends know, I don’t like to prescribe liquid medicine to kids in the “double digits.” By the age of 10, most children should be able to swallow a pill. If your "double-digit" kiddo is still pill perverse, now is a great time to collect some treats to learn a new trick. I'm talking about ransacking that Halloween candy stash! Although most of us groan at the gluttony of Halloween, one great use for the sack of sweets is to gather various-sized candy bits to practice pill swallowing.

So, how do you teach pill swallowing?

First, your child must practice guzzling. I don’t mean polite tea-time sips. I need some “just-got-rescued-from-the-desert-and-desperate-for-life-giving-fluid” kind of gulps. This may work best if you allow him to drink something he is not usually allowed to have, like juice or sports drink.  (Note: This will be the ONLY sugary beverage recommendation you will find on the blog.  After all, we are talking about candy, right?)  Practice guzzling with his chin pointed up to the sky. That will help with the next step.

Next, bring on the candy. Generally speaking, learning how to swallow a pill is an exercise of overcoming anxiety.  It’s a weird feeling to not chew before you swallow. Overcoming the nervousness of allowing your body to do something you otherwise shouldn’t, is what we are trying to accomplish in this phase of the game. 

When ready, encourage your child to guzzle down the following candies in this order:

  • One Nerd. This is the confidence builder.  Once your kiddo realizes that this water-guzzling technique just might work, he will be more likely to proceed to...
  • One Red Hot or Tic Tac. Way back in the throat, lean back, and guzzle!  After a few of these, move on to a....
  • Smartie. A little harder now, but with the soft consistency when wet can help accomplish the task.  One roll of Smarties down, and we are ready to try the....
  • Skittle. If you can swallow a Skittle, you can swallow just about anything.  Most pills are approximately this size, or a pill-splitter can help make any pill too much bigger an easier task.

That’s it! He did it! 

Need some other ideas on how to get rid of the rest of the candy? Check out the Switch Witch, or consider sending to Operation Gratitude

Good luck!

Revised 10/17