“If you are going to fight taking your medicine anyway, then I am going to sit on you, pry your mouth open and force it down your throat.”
That was me a couple of weeks ago – being all kind and fatherly.
My daughter was recently diagnosed with strep throat and for those of you who have been following along over the past few years, you will know that I have a kid who is adverse to things – like drugs – that will make her feel better. She is also a little stubborn. In this case she was prescribed antibiotics to knock down the infection. She was reluctant to take her meds to say the least. This is a kid who automatically assumes every new thing that we ask her to eat is going to taste horrible. She would rather go to bed hungry than eat a french fry because french fries are made with potatoes and potatoes are terrible – unless of course they are potato chips. She also doesn’t like bananas – or at least that is what she claims because at some point in the distant past she tried a bite of one. As such the concept of banana-flavored antibiotics – you know the one – was not a popular one.
We have three kids so we have a variety of medication dispensing devices. This particular prescription called for three doses a day for ten days. If you have been following along with your kids’ math homework that works out to 30 doses or a minimum of 15 hours of arguing about taking medicine. For the first dose of fun I offered up a spoon we have that has a hollow handle into which you can pour the correct dose of medication. I suggested placing the spoon on her tongue as far back as we could and then just pouring the medicine down her throat, thereby avoiding most if not all of her taste buds. She was sort of amenable to this suggestion. This technique worked so well that the entire dose ended up down the front of her shirt and in a puddle splattered on the floor. It also resulted in some frustration on my part after she refused to swallow. On this first dose – of 30, we spent 30 minutes fighting and her backing away every time I approached with the medication. All while I was trying to get two kids through breakfast, ready for school and lunches made for all three of us.
After that attempt we switched to a syringe that we have for giving medication to toddlers and infants and for the rest of the day my partner took over the attempted drugging of the child. The afternoon dose that day was equally excruciating and after another 30+ minutes of (my partner this time) negotiating, cajoling and fighting I pinned my daughter on the floor, pried open her mouth like she was a dog while my partner squirted the antibiotics into her throat. Then I clamped her mouth shut and told her to swallow.
I hated every minute of it.
We all did.
I spent the next hour feeling like a horrible person while making dinner. I was angry at my daughter for stubborn intransigence and angry at myself for not being able to figure out a better way to address the situation. My shoulders and neck were getting increasingly tense as I stewed in my own frustration and anger. I felt like a pretty shitty parent in that moment.In that moment as I was prying her mouth open I felt like a complete and total failure as a parent.Click To Tweet
At dinner my partner started a discussion and opened the door for me to release how I was feeling. I suspect I looked pretty sullen and irritated at the table. I launched into a rant which I dropped on my daughter. I told her that we want her to have control over decisions related to her own body and that if she doesn’t want to take Advil when she has a headache or a bruised knee that is her choice. However it is my job as her parent to keep her safe and protect her and sometimes that means requiring her to take medication that she doesn’t want to take or a vaccine that involves sticking a needle in her arm that causes a small brief amount of pain. I explained that we didn’t want her two year old sister or her grandparents who we were going to see in a couple of days to catch the infection from her. I talked about our responsibility to help reduce the chances of getting other people sick. I told her that this was one of those times and that she could not refuse the antibiotics and that she would be taking the full course of medicine. Then I laid out my threat. If she was going to argue and resist taking her meds for half an hour before we managed to force it into her, I was just going to get it over with and save us all the hassle. I told her that if she didn’t take the meds within five minutes of when we said it was time, then I was going to sit on her, force open her jaw and squirt it down her throat. I told her that I did not want to do it that way, that I would prefer if she took the syringe herself and squirted it in her own mouth. I told her that if I was going to end up feeling terrible about forcing her to take the medication anyway then I’d rather save all of us the half hour build up of anxiety and stress and get it over with quickly.
Fortunately my ‘talk’ worked and she was relatively cooperative for the remaining 28 doses. We still had lots of running away and some waste when she rejected swallowing. However we also had some doses that she took without complaint and some that she administered herself. I also had a few instances where I had to remind her what would happen if she kept running away.
I hope this never happens again. I do not want to be a parent who has to resort to threats of violence to get compliance. I try to work through, around and with her stubbornness because I know that I she can learn when and how to use her stubbornness and when to move on she will be determined and successful. I want to help her learn to pick her battles so that she uses her energy for good instead of for frustration. In almost ten years at this parenting gig I have never felt so terrible and like as big of a failure as I did when I was prying open her mouth and then holding it closed until she swallowed her antibiotics. It felt like a violation of everything I believe and want my girls to learn about consent and control over their own bodies.
The thing is … in spite of how I terrible I felt then or how I feel now writing about it a few weeks later, I would do it all over again.
How do you deal with a kid who is rejecting medicine?
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