Medication safety for kids

A crucial aspect of keeping children safe at home is ensuring that medications are labelled, stored, and administered correctly. 

Whether it is prescription medication or over-the-counter medication, it is important to understand the principles of safe medication management to prevent children from being harmed.

Prescription medication

Getting a prescription medication

If you think your child needs medication for a condition or illness, it is best to schedule an appointment with your family doctor. It is important to let your doctor know about:

  • their medical history
  • any existing conditions or allergies
  • any current medications they are on
  • the signs and symptoms your child has been experiencing.  

Based on the above factors, your doctor will likely diagnose or provide advice to you and your child. If the doctor thinks your child needs a certain medication that isn't available over-the-counter, they will write a script and prescribe medication for your child. Your family doctor will provide instructions regarding when to take the medication and how much to take (the dose).

Collecting prescriptions

You will then need to take your child’s script to a pharmacist in order to receive and pay for the medication. Sometimes the pharmacist will ask you if you would like a cheaper version of the same medication. The cheaper version is also called the generic brand. The generic brand will work the same for your child, it is just a cheaper option. 

If you have questions, it’s best to ask your pharmacist or doctor when discussing the prescription.  


Prescriptions may have ‘repeats’ which allows you to revisit the pharmacy when your child’s medication is low to get a repeat of the same medication. This is a convenient way to get medication without always having to visit your doctor first. 

If your child still requires medication after the repeats have run out, you will need to book in to see your child’s doctor to get another prescription.

Safe storage of medication

Young children are inquisitive and will often put things in their mouths before you have the chance to supervise what they are doing. 

It is important that medications, supplements and vitamins for all household members, including your child, are kept in a safe place that young children can't reach or see. This may be on high shelves or in locked cabinets. 

Medication should be stored away from heat, moisture and sunlight so it remains effective and stable. Most medicines should be stored below 25°C.  Some liquid or injectable medications may need to be stored in the fridge. If this is the case, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice. 

By having a shared understanding of the safe storage of medication in your household, young children are more likely to be safe.

Administering medications

Administering the proper medication requires careful attention, diligence and responsibility. As the primary carer of a child, you should have had several discussions with your child’s doctor or a health care professional about the dosage and timing of your child’s medication. If you are not the primary carer, have a detailed discussion with the primary carer about their medication needs before looking after their child, 

Before administering medication

You should always:

  • check the expiration date of the medication to ensure it is safe to use
  • read the label and instructions even if you have administered your child’s medication before
  • follow the advice on when to take the medication, including timing and whether it should be taken with food
  • be aware of foods, drinks or other medication that should not be taken at the same time as your child’s medication
  • check that you are administering the:
    • right medication for your child, especially if children have more than one medication or there are multiple children in the household
    • correct dose or amount of medication that was prescribed or recommended for their age or weight
    • medication at the right time of the day.

After checking medication to ensure it is safe, there are furthers steps that should be taken to ensure that you stay on top of medication safety.

Language matters

While it may be tempting to get your child to swallow their medication by referring to them as lollies or sweets, it is not recommended and may cause harm long-term. To avoid confusion, always refer to medication by its proper name and explain what they are used for. 

Do not share medication

Regardless of whether you, a sibling or a family member has the same illness, do not give your child someone else’s prescribed medication. The dosage, timing and directions are specific to the person whose name is on the medication. 

Monitor for side effects

It is important to monitor your child for potential side effects or reactions to medications, especially if it is the first time they are having the medication. You should visit your child's doctor if you have any concerns or further questions. 

Keep in contact with your health professionals

Talking with your family doctor or pharmacist is always the first step to understanding the correct way to provide medication for your child. Let your doctor know if your child experiences any side effects, reduction in symptoms or changes to their condition. Your doctor can help identify if the medication is still appropriate.

Check medication is appropriate

Not all illnesses or symptoms will require prompt medication administration. It is equally important to know when not to administer medication. 

Some medications are not recommended for children under 6 years of age, for example, cough medicine, antihistamines and decongestants. Anti-inflammatory medication and paracetamol are common over-the-counter medications for adults but could be harmful to children, so always check with your pharmacist before administering.

Avoid taking medication in front of children

Although medication is often a normal part of life, children like to copy adults. Where possible, try not to take your own medication in front of young children. If they do happen to see you taking medication, explain why you need to be taking it.

Dispose of expired medications

Always check the expiration date of your child’s medication. 

If it is out of date, it may not be safe or efficient to use. Take the medication back to your pharmacist to dispose of it correctly and update the medication needed for your child. Do not throw old medication in the bin or flush them down the toilet. 

See the Medication adherence factsheet for more information. 

Medication poisoning

Medications are the most common cause of childhood poisoning. Below are some tips for you and your family regarding medication safety. See Poisons safety for more information.

Tips to prevent medication poisoning

In an emergency, call triple zero (000) and the Poisons Information Centre (PIC) 13 11 26

To prevent medication positioning, follow the guidance below: 

  • when giving medicine to children, always follow the instructions on the label
  • buy medical products in child-resistant containers or lids and always make sure they are secured and closed after each use
  • keep all medications in the house out of reach and sight of children as not all child-resistant lids containers or lids are child-proof
  • take any unwanted or expired medicines to your local pharmacy so they can throw them away
  • don’t call medicines ‘lollies’ and, if possible
  • avoid children watching you take or give medicines to other people
  • keep handbags out of a child’s reach if storing medicine or other poisons, such as vaping products.

See the Poison safety factsheet for more information.

Serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) and epipens

Anaphylaxis is a serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, most likely from foods, insect stings, medicines or latex. 

Not all children who have allergies are at risk of anaphylaxis. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • difficulty or noisy breathing 
  • swelling or tightening of the tongue or throat 
  • difficulty talking 
  • wheezing or constant coughing 
  • dizziness or loss of consciousness 
  • pale skin.

If you think your child is having a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and is displaying any signs and symptoms, follow their first aid action plan. 

First aid for anaphylaxis

  1. Stay with the child
  2. Lay the child flat, not upright
  3. Locate and administer the EpiPen Adrenaline injector into the child’s thigh with the orange needle end - holding for 3 seconds 
  4. Call Triple Zero (000)
  5. Further adrenaline may be given if no response after 5 minutes.

If a child is unresponsive and not breathing normally, start CPR. See CPR for babies (under 12 months old) and CPR for children (over 12 months old) for more information. 

If in doubt, always treat the reaction as serious and administer an EpiPen®. It’s important to note that administering an EpiPen does not replace seeing a healthcare provider or going to the hospital. 

If your child has a severe allergic reaction for the first time, it is important that they speak to their doctor.

  • Your family doctor will likely set up a referral with an immunologist or allergy specialist 
  • The specialist will help your child identify the triggers of anaphylaxis and provide further information on how to avoid these triggers in the future 
  • You will be provided with an Anaphylaxis Action Plan and a prescription for an adrenaline injector (EpiPen® or Anapen).

What is in an Epipen?

An EpiPen®, also called an adrenaline autoinjector, is an emergency device used to quickly inject a dose of adrenaline into a child’s leg muscle when they are having a severe allergic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis. 

Adrenaline is a hormone that is made by the body. It helps to reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis very quickly by opening the airways, raising blood pressure, and reducing swelling.

See the EpiPen® factsheet for more information.

Understanding diabetes

Diabetes is a long-term health condition that impacts the way bodies turn food, in the form of glucose, into energy. This process is controlled by a hormone called insulin that is produced in the pancreas. There are different types of diabetes, including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes, which can occur during pregnancy.

All forms of diabetes result in irregular levels of glucose released in the bloodstream, which can be hard to control without proper management.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. It is when the pancreas doesn’t produce the insulin required. It is the most commonly diagnosed type of diabetes in children and adolescents. It represents approximately 10% of all diabetes cases. It is not caused by lifestyle factors and currently has no cause or cure. 

If left unmanaged type 1 diabetes can result in long-term health conditions such as heart disease or kidney disease. 

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body has become resistant to insulin and the body isn't using it effectively. It affects approximately 1.3 million Australians and represents 90% of all diabetes cases. It can be managed, prevented or delayed via medication, weight management, a healthy diet and being active. It is becoming more common in children and adolescents. 

If left unmanaged type 2 diabetes can result in long-term health conditions such as heart disease or kidney disease. 

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a unique type of diabetes that only shows up during pregnancy. It happens when hormones from the placenta stop the body from processing sugar properly, making your blood sugar levels go up. Gestational diabetes is a condition which will usually dissipate once the baby is born but can come with some risks. 

Gestational diabetes occurs in 1 in 6 pregnancies and can present in women without previous risk factors. It is recommended you speak to your doctor about gestational diabetes especially leading into the third trimester of pregnancy.

See Gestational diabetes for more information.

Managing your child’s type 1 diabetes

If your child has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they will need daily ongoing management via insulin therapy. Insulin therapy is the medication your child will need to supplement the insulin that is not being produced in their body by the pancreas. This allows circulating glucose (energy source) to cross the glucose channel into the body’s cells. This helps stabilise your child's blood sugar levels and reduces any potential complications. 

The main reason for monitoring and managing type 1 diabetes in your child is to understand their blood glucose levels (BGLs). As insulin isn’t responding to glucose in the bloodstream, children with type 1 diabetes must monitor their BGLs up to 6 times per day.  

The Blood Glucose Level (BGL) target range for a type 1 diabetic is: 

  • Before meals: 4.0-6.0 mmol/L 
  • 2 hours after meals: 4.0-8.0mmol/L 

For reference, an individual without diabetes has a normal range of BGL between 4.0-7.8mmol/L.

Monitoring blood glucose levels (BGLs)

Monitoring Blood Glucose Levels (BGLs) helps you and your child make appropriate choices about food, physical activity and medications. 

The three main ways to monitor your child’s BGLs is through:

A blood glucose meter

This device uses a small finger-pricking needle to draw a drop of blood from the finger. This blood is then absorbed onto a monitoring strip that is inserted into the blood glucose meter device. This device then provides an immediate blood glucose reading. 

A flash glucose monitor

This is a sensor worn on your child’s arm to read glucose levels just under the skin every 5 minutes. This device needs to be scanned with a reader, usually a smartphone application, and can provide downloadable data on your child’s levels of glucose throughout the day. In some instances, a blood glucose meter will still be required as the flash device doesn’t measure BGLs and can lag behind real-time readings by up to 10 minutes.

A continuous glucose monitor

The continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is similar to the flash glucose monitor as it reads glucose levels under the surface of the skin. Similar to the flash glucose monitor, a blood glucose meter may need to be taken at times to understand the immediate BGL of a child and to help calibrate the CGM device. The main differences are that this device is continuous and it can send data to an external receiver (such as a phone application or insulin pump). 

You and your child should keep a record of blood glucose readings to create a healthy understanding of BGLs as they develop. This can be done in a paper diary dedicated to your child’s diabetes management or a phone application where it is readily available. Bring these records to appointments with your child’s doctor to further understand your child’s diabetes. 

Managing type 1 diabetes and BGLs will require the ongoing treatment and administration of insulin. This can be through a very small needle in an insulin pen or an insulin pump which is worn on the outside of a person's body. 

Other ways to manage diabetes with your child are healthy lifestyle behaviours including:

Healthy eating

To get the most out of diabetes management, it is recommended to regularly include foods in your child's diet that are:

  • high in nutrients such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins
  • low in saturated fats
  • low in sugar
  • low in salt.

Understanding the carbohydrate levels of certain foods your child eats is another way of managing their condition. 

See Healthy eating for children for more information or speak with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) or your family doctor.

Physical activity

Like any other child, the recommendations are to achieve 60 minutes of physical activity each day (for 5-17-year-olds). Physical activity has an impact on circulating glucose, so if your child is trying a new activity, make sure you are monitoring their BGL more regularly. 

See Movement guidelines for physical activity recommendations for your child.

Asthma medication usage

If your child has asthma and you’re looking for more general information on the condition, see the Asthma factsheet

If your child has asthma, they will likely need asthma medication to manage symptoms or asthma attacks. If you do not have medication to treat your child’s asthma, visit your doctor and ask for an Asthma Management Plan. An Asthma Management Plan will help understand when to use asthma medication and how much to use. It is important to use the devices properly and with the right technique to get the most relief from symptoms.  

Your child’s doctor will step you through the process of using asthma medication. There are two types of asthma medication in the form of relievers and preventers: 


Relievers are used when required to alleviate certain symptoms. They work and act fast by opening and relaxing the airways, also known as bronchodilators. This can take effect from a few minutes and up to 4 hours. They are usually blue or grey in colour and children with asthma should always carry their reliever device and use it only when it is required.


Preventors are used to control symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks from happening. They are a corticosteroid that help to reduce the airways becoming inflamed. These inhaler devices are usually orange or yellow in colour and help children with exercise-induced asthma or asthma as an allergy. 

For more severe asthma episodes, oral corticosteroids in the form of a tablet or liquid medication may be advised by your doctor. These medications are only utilised in more serious cases and can take up to 4 hours to relieve symptoms. 

Correct use of an asthma inhaler

Most asthma medication will be in the form of an inhaler (puffer) which will be taken orally. 

A spacer is a device that attaches to your child's asthma medication. It acts as a holding chamber to make the medication easier to breathe in. It is highly recommended that spacers be used by all children who require a puffer, as this will allow the full dose of asthma medication to reach your child’s airways. 

It is important to always follow your child's asthma action plan. If there are no improvements, call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance. Keep giving 4 separate puffs, every 4 minutes until emergency assistance arrives.

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024