This post has been heavily reworded following a lengthy debate which has since been moved to chat.
The problem is she is this tiny 2.5-year-old kid and I am close to 200 lbs, and I don't like using strength or force to do things.
I realize this may come across as a non-answer at first glance, but as most answers seem to be variations of a you've gotta do what you've gotta do attitude towards use of force, let me first establish this:
I think you should absolutely refrain from use of force to any extent possible
This ought to be the first rule of parenting. Do not use violence on your children. The wording to any extent possible is a big caveat granting you the option to say medication is still non-negotiable, and if you fail to administer it without resorting to force, you still get to have that as your fall back. Be that as it may, you should at least acknowledge that it is a failure. And failing as a parent has to be OK. We all do that. But it's not in itself a reason to lower our standards.
Brushing teeth, sitting down while eating, finishing one's meal and dressing appropriately for the weather outside are all things that are arguably in your child's best interest, that your child will more or less frequently challenge you on. To an even greater extent, I believe, the lower her perceived autonomy in these matters. Going beyond arguments of best interest, saying "thank you" after a meal, or not ruining your clothes, and a vast array of preferences unrelated to health may for some parents be up there on the non-negotiable list. Resigning to the idea that force is acceptable when the outcome is non-negotiable is, I think, embarking on a path towards a violent parent-child relationship.
What to do instead, then?
Others have contributed great suggestions in this thread on how to make the medication more agreeable to the child. For a 2.5 year old, I would put my money on the tips that pertain to gamifying the experience. I have a daughter that age, and probably several times a day we have a conversation that follows the same script:
- Me: Time to do X
- Her: No, not yet / I don't want to
- Me: OK, I guess that means I'll get to do it first then
- Her: No me first! (Rushes to toilet/bed/washing hands, whatever was initially refused)
If the medicine is sufficiently unpleasant, your mileage may of course vary, with any approach. My main suggestion is simply hang in there. Persevere. If you know how important this medicine is, then I fully expect you will be able to be more stubborn than her.
And this is the part that comes across as just removing an option (use of force) without really bringing anything new to the table, but that's missing the magic that happens in this very interaction. Of course you'll explain why the medicine is important, perhaps let her know what might happen if she doesn't get it, remind her of how quickly you can get back to a more appealing activity once this is over with, and perhaps bribe her with a reward if she follows through. I bet you've tried all that.
But most importantly, you listen to her, you hug her and comfort her, you acknowledge and validate her feelings, you confirm that "yes, I know how unpleasant this is to you". I'm sure you've tried that as well, and that may also appear not to be working, but you are showing clearly that you respect her autonomy, and that her reluctance matters to you, and is taken into consideration. Whenever you resort to force - and to a greater extent the earlier you do - your daughter will feel that her opinion doesn't matter. She will feel that it's her job to fight for being heard. For all the work you put into validating her feelings, she will gain confidence that you act the way you do while taking her feelings into consideration. That even if you do in the end use force, it was not because your opinion is more important, but because the tradeoff of her opinion and the importance of the medicine still favors the medicine. That's not something you can simply assert. Kids that age don't pay much attention to what we say, they attend to how we act. That's hard earned trust.
My original post seemed to raise more questions than it answered, and I think those comments has had great value in teasing out the details of my argument, where I may have been unclear, so I have included some of the counter arguments below, that I believe have helped clarify my point.
It's a parent's job to look after the child's best interest. You shouldn't feel guilty about doing what you have to do
That is absolutely the parent's responsibility, but it's not their sole responsibility. An analogy I'll happily steal from paediatrician Lars Gustafsson: think of the child's life as a ship. You're not the captain of that ship, the child is. You're only the pilot. You know the narrow path the ship will have to follow to navigate through the harbour. You know all of the hazards that are not immediately visible. Crucially, your job is not to take control over the ship, but to navigate it safely into open water.
Yes, you have to give the medicine, but I think a bit of guilt is absolutely appropriate if in getting there you have to take actions that conflict with other aspects of your job as a parent.
Won't a prolonged discussion give the child a false impression that the outcome is debatable?
I believe not. You can be clear from the outset what's going to happen, even if you never invite use of force as an option. The child may search for openings, but you never have to grant that. You only need to validate the child's feelings.
That's fine if you can win her over, but it seems OP can't. If after all that disucssion you still have to use force, wouldn't it have been better to rip the band aid sooner?
Emphatically no. This is key. It is the work put into respecting her autonomy that matters. If after a full hour of debate you still forcibly give the medicine, she knows that her opinion was so important to you that you spent a full hour to avoid that outcome. The shorter the route to use of force, the less she will be inclined to believe you take her feelings into account. The more she will fight to be heard.
And what's more, if you grant yourself that you have to resort to force too quickly, you will never know whether the tenth time of having that same discussion you would've won her over. That's opportunity lost, and I would argue the opportunity is very real, because all that hassle you conveniently skip is the grunt work of building the trust that can persuade her to yield part of her autonomy to you.
But I have 4 kids, I simply wouldn't have the time for that
Be that as it may. If we've established that use of force is greatly undesirable, I think that medication, at least in OP's example, is a rare and critical enough event that you should at least use up all the time you do have. So your failure rate may be higher, but that's still no excuse to jump to forceful conclusions, and no excuse not to write it down as a failure.
OK, say I do have the time. Isn't this time spent agonising the child? Again, rip the band aid
That may be the case. I don't see it that way. I think spending time emphatically listening to your child is a valuable experience in its own right. Depending on the situation, this counter argument may well be valid, but I don't think it outweighs the benefits of my suggestion.
Your use of the term 'violence' is unfair, nobody has an intent to do harm here
That wording was very much intentional. I am aware that the dictionary definition of violence contains an element of intent, but I am also aware that many organizations that work with violence prevention try not to stress that aspect. Benevolent intent is a small comfort to the victim. Parents with worse judgments could do even worse things with a good intention. The child will still feel violated.
But shouldn't aversion to medication be nipped in the bud? You're inviting an unhealthy relationship to medicine that may prove harmful later
I think the opposite is true. If the medication is unpleasant, I think forcefully holding a child down and administering the medicine against her will is going to be a great deal more unpleasant, and run a far greater risk of such long term consequences.
I get all this if we were talking about older children, do you think this still holds true at 2.5?
Well, my oldest child is that age, so that's my main frame of refernce in writing this. I think small children are generally capable of more than we give them credit for, and crucially, we will never find out that we're in the wrong, if we persistently jump too eagerly to enforcing our own parental authority.