Giving medicine to a sick toddler

Most parents can relate: once your kid starts daycare the colds and runny noses begin. The guilt never ends. You feel like the worst mom in the world as you give your warm-to-the-touch, fussy child some Tylenol®, put their coat on and say a quick prayer that you won’t be called to pick up your sick child.

That was me many mornings last fall. It seemed every week one of my twin toddler girls was sick with some sort of bug. Our hopes of not being “one of those parents” that medicate their children all the time vanished.

I remember one particular time, my daughter had a very high fever that would not drop below 101°, even with medication. After sitting in the urgent care waiting room for more than two hours, we were called into the examination room. When the doctor was all done, he suggested we give her medicine every three hours, alternating between acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Motrin®). We could not give more than four doses every 24 hours. This would keep her fever down. I remember, sadly, how happy and relieved I felt that I had permission to give both. There was hope my daughter would have some comfort soon, and I might possibly get some much needed sleep.

When we got home, we started off with a dose of Tylenol®. Three hours later I checked her temperature and gave her Motrin®. My husband came home from work and asked when her next dose was due and what she needed.

I explained to him that she was going to get every other medication every three hours—6 p.m., 9 p.m., 12 a.m., etc.—until her fever was under control. I stressed that we could not give more than four doses of each medicine within 24 hours. We both began to get nervous about the middle of the night dosing. We were both so tired from several nights of interrupted sleep. How were we not going to screw this up and give her the wrong medicine at the wrong time?

Once my daughter was comfortable enough to sleep, I went to the computer and set up a “medication schedule” so we could keep track of what medication she needed when. The idea was that when a scheduled dose was given, the temperature would be written down and a check mark placed next to the scheduled dose.

 Sample Medication Schedule

  Time Medication Dose Temperature
9 p.m. Tylenol® 0.8ml 101.4
  12 midnight       Motrin®        1.875ml       
  3 a.m. Tylenol® 0.8ml  
  6 a.m. Motrin® 1.875ml  
  9 a.m. Tylenol® 0.8ml  
  12 noon Motrin® 1.875ml  


I also put at the top of the page two important reminders: the poison center number, 1-800-222-1222, and the “5 Rights.”

1. The right patient
2. The right route
3. The right drug
4. The right dose
5. The right time

I was not too worried about rights number 1 and 2. But we really needed to be careful with the last 3—the drug, dose and time.

Our medication schedule and 5 rights worked. Twenty-four hours later my daughter’s fever was under control without any incident. The next 24 hours were a lot easier. She only needed one medication every 6-8 hours. That we could manage, but we still kept the medication log so we both knew when the last dose was given.

The next time your son or daughter gets sick, consider doing the same thing. Set up a medication schedule and include the poison center phone number and the 5 Rights. It will save you a lot of worry and a possible trip to the emergency department.

Remember: Every child is different. Check with your child’s doctor when he or she is sick to determine the right medication and dosage schedule. 

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