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Getting Children to take Supplements

Starting nutritional supplement therapy with children can be very stressful for parents. Children with developmental disabilities (such as ADD/HD, Autism, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, etc) may be required to take anywhere from 6 to 20 different nutritional supplements each day. This can be overwhelming to parents, especially when their children do not swallow pills and strongly resist being forced to consume anything that is not of their choosing. Many parents ask me about products in chewable or liquid form. Although having a multivitamin in either of these forms may make seem like the answer, high quality and effective formulation designed for kids with autism/special needs will never taste ideal, because of the amount and types of nutrients their bodies and brains require.

The bottom line is that certain critical nutrients, such a vitamin B-6, do not taste good, especially in the amounts that these kids needs. Below are some suggestions that have been tried and true to help overcome the problem of running away, clenched teeth, and spitting back out what is put into their mouths. Whether the supplements you are giving are in capsule, liquid, or chewable form, following these six steps should help with getting your child to comply.

1. Take a No-Nonsense Approach.

You have been advised to give supplements to help you child with either a nutritional deficiency or to support and strengthen the immune system, therefore give supplements with the same level of intensity that you use to give them a life-saving medication. Your child needs these supplements to support their brain, immune system and overall nutritional status. Your child can sense when you mean business and you cannot allow them to think that taking their supplements is optional.

2. Don’t pretend it’s not there.

Try not to mix into food or drink and pretend that it’s not there! This only works if you are adding only one or two tasteless supplements. Even if they can’t taste it, they may choose not to finish the drink or food that it’s mixed in and the child is not getting everything they need. As you add more needed supplements to their regimen, hiding them in food will eventually backfire. The last thing we want children who are picky eaters to do is to stop eating because they are suspicious of what may have been added to their food.

3. Choose the Best Method for your Child to Administer Supplements.

You need to take into effect the sensory/swallowing issues that your child has. Does your child do better with liquids or semisolids? The two most common mediums in which to mix supplements are fruit smoothies or liquids.

4. Use the Concept of “First – Then.”

This is a critical concept to ensure compliance. (i.e.; first we turn on the water, then we wash our hands). Even a very young child can learn this concept if it’s repeated enough. Once this concept is understood, you need to consistently use it enforce compliance. Next, choose a favorite activity (eating a favorite treat, playing games/ipad, watchingTV, favorite toy, blanket, etc), for the purpose of withholding it until or AFTER the child takes the supplements successfully. For example: “Kirsty, do you want to (eat breakfast)? FIRST you must take your healthy foods/vitamins, medicines, or any name you want to call it that you use every time) BEFORE you can (eat breakfast). Even if your child decides to delay or give me trouble with taking his supplements, you can remove the ‘favorite activity’ ie turn off the TV and tell him that it stays off until the supplements are swallowed, or you can also put a time allowance on the ‘favorite activity’, so they start to learn that the more time they delay, they miss precious time. It is important to be firm and never waiver on this, because it will ensure that success will come quickly.

5. Use Reward

Use rewards to help Associate Good with the Bad, but NEVER penalise them. This comes in handy when a child needs extra reinforcement. Another useful approach to further ensure compliance is to give a reward, which only comes immediately after the child successfully taking the supplements. ALWAYS give lots of praise and hugs as well as one good tasting reward that they can associate with taking yucky supplements, (although watch out for giving anything too sweet or anything containing allergens).  It doesn’t always have to be a food item either, try to avoid food rewards and use reward charts, stickers or extra ‘treat’ time with their favorite activity.

 6. Be consistent and firm.

If you are firm and do not give in to the conditions you set down for your child, most children will start to comply within 2-3 days because they know that they cannot win the battle. Wait them out for as long as you need to, and when they FINALLY give in and take the supplements, quickly give them praise, the preferred activity and the small reward that is given every time they successfully take their supplements. This positive reinforcement will encourage them to be more willing next time.

My top tip is really the first one – you are helping your child and a lot of the mindset has to start with the parent first! 🙂