Coaxing small children into taking supplements can be a serious challenge. Babies? No problem. Maybe even after their first birthday? Sure. But when children enter into the 2-6-year-old phase of life, giving a vitamin is bound to result in turned-up noses, tantrums, purposely feeding said vitamin to the household pet, or a litany of "but it's YUCKY!" protests. Even if you are "clever" or "sneaky" and attempt to disguise a supplement in a beverage, your super sleuth kid may be onto you, "I know it's in there!" and trust can be impaired and worse yet--health is set up as a terrible event in a game of you versus them.
So what's a parent to do? As a mom of a child who is asymptomatic (thank god) but was born with a shaky metabolic thumbprint (thanks to me) and initially high markers for chronic Lyme and EBV (again, thanks to me), my husband and I have three long years of trials and victories at giving our daughter supplements. At its easiest, her protocol involved a sprinkle of probiotics in raw milk; at its most challenging, her protocol involved 6 different homeopathics, 4 herbals, 12 supplements, Epsom salt detox baths, and essential oils on the bottoms of her feet. And all this during her second and third year of life.
So how did we do it? Well, here are some success tips that saved us.
There are two general approaches: (1) psychological and morale-boosting (which is largely unique and depending on the personality and developmental stage of your child) and (2) food and beverage strategies.
Psychology and Morale Boosting
- X Before Y: If your child is interested in the park, a walk, or some other activity, the basic "let's do x first, before we do y" approach can be very effective for children who are coping well with transitions and linear cause-effect and consequence algorithms. So, in plain speaking terms, "Let's take our [enter vitamin] first, and then after we can enjoy [desired activity]." This often basic logic works great.
- Negotiation: In the moments when the above approach does not work great, then we have to get a bit more creative. Another solution may be to bargain or negotiate with your child, which gives them a sense of involvement. You can bargain with them about splitting the supplement into two parts (one in the morning, and one in the evening). The sense of control is very powerful. And motivating!
- Your Choice: If your child is NOT outright grossed out by the taste or texture of a supplement, then you can give them a sense of empowerment by providing them a choice in the method of supplement: "We have two choices today. Do you want to take your [enter supplement] on a spoon, in a paper cup, or a in a cup with a straw?"
- Piggyback off Recent Illness/Role-Playing: If your child has recently experienced a tough bout with an acute cold, flu, or other virus, you can "piggyback" off that recent illness by asking your child if he or she would like to "be healthy and strong, and not get a nasty virus like the last one." Surprisingly, explaining scientifically how medicine and daily supplements can help ward off or lessen the "ouchies" of a virus is extremely motivating. Even in our three-year-old daughter, this has been very effective. "Your probiotic gives you good strong bacteria! Viruses don't LIKE that bacteria!" Even impersonating the demise of said virus is VERY powerful, and can turn supplements into a victory: "'Oh no!' says the virus. 'Not healthy probiotics and Vitamin C! Oh no! I'm melting! Don't you take that supplement! Help help!'" Such role-playing can be hilarious for a small child, and spur the inner rebel in the heart of small humans.
- The Family that Supps Together, Stays Together: If a small child refuses to take a supplement, it can often be helpful if he or she sees their whole family taking supplements at the same time. Social psychology is paramount.
- Donate Empty Supplement Bottles To Your Kid's Doctor Kit: If your kid loves playing doctor, give empty supplement bottles to your child to play with. This gives your child an opportunity to dose their loveys and stuffed animals, and be in the powerful position of GIVING supplements, instead of just taking them. This can go a long way towards compliance, as they recognize the helping nature of medicine. You will earn double bonus points if you pretend to be sick, and allow your child to "make you feel healthy!" by dosing you with pretend bottles.
- Depriving Parent Game: We had a lot of fun when my husband would pretend to take my daughter's supplement and say "YUM! I love this!" which would spur our daughter to chase down my husband and say "but that's mine!" Supply and demand. It works every time.
- Believe in Magic: We use essential oils often for my daughter that need to be applied to the bottoms of her feet. We invented the idea of "fairy cream" or "sweet dream cream" to "sell" the essential oils, and it worked so well--appealing to her sense of magic--that she lets us know if we ever turn in for the night without applying this magical elixir.
- Appeal To Their Heroes: All children have heroes! Elsa, Captain America, a beloved aunt or uncle. Telling your child that they will grow up to be BIG and AWESOME like their hero if they take their supps, OR that their heroes take supps, too (!) can go a long way o the motivational side of things.
- Reward Chart: Some children are very motivated by reward and completion charts. Fashioning one out of paper with stickers to show completion of a day of supplements, or even a whiteboard where you cross out the days, can be really fun--especially if the end of each week the child can expect a special fun trip to the bookstore, or a fun treat, or something to REWARD at the end of a long excellent week of supplement taking.
- Bribery: As a last result, bribery always works, though I try to use it as a last measure.
Food and Beverage Strategies
- With all food and beverage "disguising," it is important to keep the portion size of said beverage and smoothie SMALL so that you can be assured that the taste and texture are well concealed, but that there is not too much that your child won't be able to finish it. The goal is to adjust the ratio of disguise to the ratio of realistic-finishing possibility.
- Try not to let your child SEE you mixing medicine into their food or beverage. They will begin to doubt their food, and feel you are NOT being straight with them. So, either be VERY sneaky, or outright honest. You know your child best.
- Open capsules (many supplements come in cap form only) and pour them into a VERY well-blended smoothie with fruit and a blendable fiat (milk, coconut milk, etc.). Kids are VERY attuned to the texture of supplements, and so blending powders in thick smoothies that they enjoy is HUGE. Make this breakfast, so that kids can take it out the door with them if they are slacking on finishing their beverage at home.
- Make homemade Jello and mix in fermented probiotics like kambucha. Kids will love it, and have NO clear it's there.
- Blend supplements (that will not alter their basic chemistry in cold temperatures) into juice and freeze in fun molds to make "healthy pops!"
- Get fun little Dixie cups that your child helps you pick out, and mix liquid supplementation or liquid-based herbs in juice in SMALL shot-size amounts. We calls these "kid shots."
- Mix a supplement (powder, open cap, liquid herb) in a honey and an nut butter and fashion into a little snack ball. Or, use mix the supplement in honey and nut butter and spread on toast. Again, this works better with liquid based supplements, but can work with probiotic powders as well.
What are your tactics and strategies? Would love to know your best ninja-A game strategies.