Medication Safety for parents and caregivers

Each year 40,000 – 50,000 young children are brought to emergency rooms because they got into medicines that were left within reach. To understand the dangers medications can pose to our kids, and to identify ways to make our homes safer, it helps to see the world from a kid’s point of view.

When our children don’t feel well, we parents will look to just about anything to bring them comfort. Many times, this means reaching for medication to ease their symptoms. As a pediatrician, I know the safest place to store medicine in between uses is in a location up and away. But as a mom, I’ve felt the temptation during a long, stressful night with a feverish and fussy toddler to leave the medication out for easy reach. For parents and pediatricians alike, it’s always worth repeating that it’s important to be as vigilant about medication safety in times of illness as in our normal day-to-day routine.

  • Out of sight, out of mind. Bright medication bottles can attract the attention of curious eyes and little hands, so it’s best to keep medications up and away. Find places in your home that are too high for children to reach and – better yet – too high for them to even see. Don’t forget about where you store medications you take frequently – like vitamins or over-the-counter pain and fever reducers. People often keep these sorts of medications in purses, on bathroom counters, or other convenient places that children can easily access. One handy way of exploring your home from a child’s perspective is to get down on their level! Bend down and look around your home. Do you see anything colorful or enticing on countertops or in easy-to-reach drawers and cabinets?
  • Danger in disguise. To children, pills can easily be mistaken for candy, gummies look like their beloved fruit snacks, and liquid medications can look incredibly similar to their favorite fruit drink. With child-pleasing flavors like cherry and bubble gum, it’s understandable that children might confuse medicine with candy. Take time to create teachable moments around medication safety. Be very clear with your child and explain that medicine is not candy, and that you and other adult caregivers are the only people allowed to give it to them. When visiting others or hosting guests, remind them to keep purses, bags, and coats with medications in them stored up and away.
Toddler playing with father in the background
  • Make safety “click.” Keep medications in their original, child-resistant containers. These containers are made with safety in mind and have locking mechanisms that click or no longer twist when they are in the locked position. But remember that ‘child-resistant’ does not mean “child-proof” and it is important to keep all medicine containers out of your child’s reach and sight.

If you know or suspect that your child has gotten into a medication, know who to call for help. You can call a Poison Center from anywhere in the United States 24 hours a day for expert advice at: (800) 222-1222. You can also text “POISON” to 797979 to automatically save the number.

Thank you Hailey Nelson, MD. for this contribution