Medication adherence factsheet


Medication adherence is how well your child can follow instructions about the medicine they need. 

Children and teenagers can struggle with medication adherence depending on:

  • their age
  • the type of medication they are taking
  • their medical condition
  • other relevant medical or trauma history.

They can also struggle with:

  • the taste of the medication
  • whether it comes in tablets, liquid or capsules
  • the size of tablets or amount of liquid
  • whether it needs to be taken with an injection, inhaler, syringe or cup
  • the number of times it needs to be taken per day
  • how long the medication needs to be taken for
  • the side effects they may have.

It is important to support your child in having good medication adherence while they are being treated for a short- or long-term health condition. 

 Things to consider


Some children struggle to take medication with a certain taste or smell. 

You can try:

  • having your child hold their nose as they take the medication
  • giving your child a food like yoghurt, or a drink like apple juice, to get the taste out of their mouth
  • speaking to the doctor about whether the medication can be mixed into another food
  • talking to the doctor about different brands, flavours or formulations of the medication.


Formulation is the way that the medication is given. 

Different formulations can include:

  • tablets
  • capsules
  • liquids
  • soluble - dissolved in water.

Some children prefer different formulations of medication, like liquid, over tablets. Speak to the doctor or pharmacist about whether their medication comes in a different formulation.


Some children will need to take a bigger volume of medication. This could mean swallowing multiple tablets, or drinking a larger amount of liquid.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the medication can be given in a way that makes the volume smaller, or whether it can be mixed into a suitable food or drink.

How medication is given

Children who are going through medical treatment can often feel like they do not have any power or control over their bodies. When this happens, they might try to avoid taking their medication.

You can give your child some power and control by supporting them with things like making choices and learning to manage the medication by themselves where appropriate.

This might include:

  • giving a choice of using a spoon, medicine cup or syringe
  • letting your child help deliver the medication by holding the mask, syringe or cup themselves
  • getting your child to practice swallowing tablets using a small lolly or sprinkle to build their confidence.


The more times your child needs to take medication throughout the day, the more likely it is that they will start to miss or refuse to take it.

Some medications can come in a sustained-release formula that can reduce how often your child takes the medication throughout the day.

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist to see what options are available for your child's medications.

Length of treatment

Children who are taking medication for a long-term health issue are more likely to have issues with adherence.

Long-term illnesses that need regular medication include:

Involving your child in developing their treatment plan can give them some choice and control over their body, build confidence in managing their health, and improve how they take their medication.


Things parents can do to help

Knowing as much as you can about your child's condition and their medication is important. This includes:

  • what the medication is treating
  • how the medication treats the condition
  • what type of side effects are common
  • how it needs to be given
  • any special advice or instructions from the doctor or pharmacist.

This information can help you be confident and consistent in managing your child's medication, and answer any questions your child might have.

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you instructions on giving certain medications and training on any equipment. Equipment might include an inhaler, needles for injections, or a dropper.

Other helpful strategies

Try the following strategies to help your child take their medication according to the instructions. Speak to your child's doctor or pharmacist for any issues or questions.


  • include medication in the daily routine to make it normal and easy to remember - for example, medication is always taken when we wake up, before we feed the cat
  • use a pillbox, tracking app or Webster pack to keep track of when medication is given
  • set an alarm on your phone as a reminder.

Rewards and encouragement:

  • use a sticker chart as a way to track your child's medication and rewards for taking it consistently
  • use encouragement and praise when your child remembers a dose, rather than punishment when they miss or refuse a dose
  • if medication tastes or feels unpleasant, redirect your child's attention to a pleasant activity quickly after they take it. 

Emotional support:

  • remain calm and positive
  • acknowledge that this is difficult for your child
  • remind your child that while taking medication is not something they can choose, they can decide how to take it and what they want to do after they take it
  • let your child know that blocking their nose after swallowing can stop it from tasting as bad.
Last updated Tuesday 12th December 2023


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024