When small children have a cough, give them a placebo such as a teaspoon of sugar water instead of over-the-counter cold or cough medicine. The FDA has warned parents not to give such drugs to children under two because serious side effects can occur; the drugs’ labels say they shouldn’t be used in children under four. (Keep in mind that there’s no evidence that OTC cough medicines work better than a placebo in people of any age.)
A study published in 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics found that children under four who were given a teaspoon of agave nectar or grape-flavored water at bedtime had greater improvements in cough-related symptoms than those who got no treatment. Previous research found that honey also helps, but honey shouldn’t be given to children less than a year old because of the risk of infant botulism.