10 questions you should ask before giving your child medication

Dr. Koren is the founder and director of the Motherisk Program and professor of Paediatrics, Pharmacology, Pharmacy, and Medical Genetics at the University of Toronto. He is also the Richard and Jean Ivey Chair in Molecular Toxicology in the Schulich School of Medicine, at The University of Western Ontario, where he holds the rank of professor in Medicine and Paediatrics.

Every year, numerous children receive the wrong medications, wrong doses, or experience side effects not expected by parents. To prevent these mishaps, which can be serious and even life-threatening at times, we have prepared a list of 10 questions you should ask before giving any medication to your child.

To make it easier, you can print off a checklist of questions here. Take it with you to your doctor so you can discuss the medicines he or she prescribes for your child.

Here are the questions:

1) What is the name of the medication?

Find out both the commercial name and the chemical name of the medication and be sure you know its correct spelling.

* Be aware: Many drugs sound alike although they are different.

2) What is the medication for?

Make sure you know what the medication does and how it works.

3) How should I administer it?

You want to be clear about the following:

  • How it should be given (e.g. teaspoonful, tablet, calibrated oral syringe, etc.)
  • How much to give your child
  • How many times per day it should be given
  • Whether it should be given with or without food
  • How it should be stored (e.g. room temperature, in the fridge, and out of reach of children)

* Be aware: Errors in dose often happen when switching from syrup to tablets.

A calibrated oral syringe is the best way to administer liquid medicine.

4) Is it the typical dose?

Find out whether the dose prescribed is typical for your child’s diagnosis, weight and age.

* Be aware: High doses increase the risk of toxicity for many medications.

5) When and how quickly will it work?

Ask if you will be able to tell when it is working or if it works “silently”. Learn what signs indicate that the medicine is working.

6) What common side effects should I look for?

Ask what side effects are common, find out how often they happen and know what symptoms to look for.

7) What are the serious side effects?

Be aware of any serious side effects associated with the medication. Know what they are, how often they happen and what symptoms you should watch for that might indicate a risk.

Know the symptoms that mean you should contact your doctor right away.

Also, in case of an accidental overdose, know what to expect. Ask how dangerous it is and know what you should do in such a case.

8) What are the alternatives to this medication?

Find out what other options are available. For example, there may be non-medicinal solutions or different types of medications you could try.

9) Is it safe in terms of my child’s allergies and other medications?

If your child has allergies, tell your doctor what they are and ask if the medicine contains any of these ingredients or anything that should not be taken with this allergy.

You should also tell your doctor about all the other medications you give your child, including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary or alternative natural health products (e.g. Echinacea, etc.). Check that the medication prescribed is safe to take with other products your child may need.

If you decide to give your child an over-the-counter or natural health product, check with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure it can be safely given while your child is taking this medicine.

10) Has anything changed?

If anything changes, be extra careful. For example:

  • If your doctor or pharmacist changes (e.g. you visit a walk-in clinic instead of seeing your regular doctor)
  • If the dose of medicine is increased or decreased
  • If the formulation is changed (e.g. from syrup to tablet)

Finally, if the medicine changes in any way (e.g. colour, taste or texture), double-check with your pharmacist to ensure it’s still safe to give your child.

* Be aware: Errors happen more often when these types of changes are made.

Copyright © 2012 The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. All rights reserved. 

The Information on this web page is provided for educational information purposes only. It is not designed or intended to constitute medical advice or to be used for diagnosis or to replace your physician. Consult your physician to determine the appropriateness of the Information for your specific situation and before making any decision regarding treatment and/or medication. The Information is believed to be reliable when posted. However, neither Motherisk nor The Hospital for Sick Children guarantee or warrant the quality, accuracy, completeness, timeliness, appropriateness or suitability of the Information provided. Reference to or mention of specific products or services do not constitute an endorsement by Motherisk or The Hospital for Sick Children or Shoppers Drug Mart.