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Using medicines

Medicine isn’t always necessary when your child is ill. Some illnesses simply get better by themselves and make your child stronger and better able to resist similar illness in the future. If you’re offered a prescription, talk with your GP about why it’s needed, how it will help, and whether there are any alternatives.

  • When a medicine is prescribed, ask about any possible side-effects. Could it, for example, make your child sleepy or irritable?
  • Make sure you know how much and how often to give a medicine. Write it down if need be. If in doubt, check with your pharmacist or GP.
  • Always finish a prescribed course of medicine. A course of antibiotics, for example, usually lasts at least five days. This is to make sure all the bacteria are killed off. Your child may seem better after two or three days, but the illness is more likely to return if you don’t finish all the medicine.
  • If you think your child is reacting badly to a medicine, for example with a rash or diarrhoea, stop giving it and tell your GP. Keep a note of the name of the medicine so you can tell your GP in the future.
  • If you buy medicines at the pharmacist, always say it’s for a young child. Give your child’s age. Some medicines are for adults only. Always follow the instructions on the label or ask the pharmacist if you’re unsure.

  • Ask for sugar-free medicines if they are available.
  • Look for the date stamp. Don’t use out-of-date medicines. Take them back to the pharmacy to be destroyed.
  • Only give your child medicine given by your GP or pharmacist. Never use medicines prescribed for anyone else.
  • Keep all medicines out of your child’s reach and preferably out of sight – in the kitchen where you can keep an eye on them, rather than the bathroom.
  • In the past, all medicines for children have been diluted to the right strength for each child with a liquid solution so that you could give it to your child on a 5 ml spoon. Now most medicines prescribed by your GP will no longer be diluted in this way. Instead you’ll have to measure the correct dose for your child’s age. The instructions will be on the bottle.
  • Medicines that aren’t diluted in liquid may need to be given using a ‘liquid medicine measure’, which looks like a syringe. It allows you to give small doses of medicine more accurately.

Always read the manufacturer’s instructions supplied with the measure, and always give the exact dose stated on the medicine bottle. Some medicines will come with a measure supplied by the manufacturer, in which case that’s the right measure to use. If in doubt ask the pharmacist for help.

It doesn’t matter if your child doesn’t want to stay in bed. Being with you, maybe tucked up in an armchair or on a sofa, might be less lonely. Children are usually sensible about being ill and if they say they’re well enough to be out of bed, they very probably are.


We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.