Over-the-Counter Medicines: Tips for Parents

8 out of 10 parents have given the wrong dose of liquid medicine to their children at some point by accident.* Follow these tips to make sure your child is safely getting the exact amount of medicine he or she needs, and watch this video as a reminder to ditch the spoon and dose with the cup.

1. Choose and use OTCs with care.

  • Read and follow the label every time you use a medicine.
  • Dose by symptom: Only give a medicine that treats your child’s specific symptoms.
    • Never use cough, cold, or allergy medicines to make your child sleepy.
    • Never give aspirin-containing products to your child or teen for flu-like symptoms, chicken pox, and other viral illnesses.
  • Dose by age: Make sure the medicine is right for your child’s age.
    • Do not use oral cough and cold medicines in children younger than 4.
  • Know your child’s weight: Directions for some OTCs are based on weight. In these cases, check the label to dose the medicine by your child’s weight.
  • Dose with the right device: Always use the measuring device that comes with the medicine–do not substitute with a kitchen spoon.
  • Don’t double up: Be careful not to give your child two medicines that contain the same active ingredients (for example, acetaminophen).

2. Store medicines up and away and out of your child’s reach and sight.

3. Toss expired or unwanted medicines safely. Don’t use medicines past the expiration date, as they may not provide the treatment you need. Follow these safe disposal steps: http://www.knowyourotcs.org/safe-disposal/.

4. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have questions.


Download a free brochure to answer your questions about kids and OTC cough and cold medicines.

* According to recent National Institutes of Health study.

Many rely on OTC cough and cold medicines to help children feel better when they are sick, and it is important that parents and caregivers know how to give these medicines to children safely. Treat with Care arms parents and caregivers with the information they need to safely give OTC cough and cold medicines to their little ones.