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Our preschooler (3 1/2 years old) demands a band-aid for every minor injury, whether he's actually bleeding or not. I've tried discussing the actual purpose of an adhesive bandage (keeping a wound closed and dirt and germs away while it heals) and pointing out that it will do nothing for a stubbed toe, banged shin, or bumped earlobe. He calmly listens to the explanation, then says, "OK, but I need a band-aid," and points to the bruise again.

Assuming I've got enough on hand that I don't risk running out in case a real cut or scrape needs attention — is there a downside to letting him use them as often as he wants? I'm not sure whether it's fine to indulge in the placebo effect (given his young age, this is unlikely to last), or whether he's learning to think of first aid as a game rather than a serious analytical process.

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    Are you ready to find band-aids all over the house to fix things that have ouchies? He's 3 and band aids are a sort of comfort object, it will pass. – scrappedcola Jun 1 '15 at 22:27
  • @scrappedcola Yup, that's another downside I hadn't thought of... – Acire Jun 1 '15 at 22:50
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    +1: if only for confirmation that this is not just our problem. – deworde Jun 2 '15 at 15:25
  • You could probably end this by finding one that sticks better and hurts to pull off. (But I don't think it's harmful behaviour) – Erik Jun 2 '15 at 19:27
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    Currently, our son's minor injuries and bumps are fixed with kisses, which are cheaper than band-aids. I hope it stays this way for awhile. In seriousness, though, I bring it up because it's related: Kisses are as much of a placebo effect/acknowledgement of injury as putting on Band-aids. I wonder if any potential downsides would affect only one or the other (aside from the obvious physical/monetary issues). – user11394 Jun 2 '15 at 20:47
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The band-aid issue is not uncommon, and may have several possible causes:

  1. The child associates band-aid with healing.

    Basically, it's a placebo. As such, you can - and should, for consistency's sake - deal with it exactly as you would deal with any placebo issue (as to how you deal with those, it's somewhat offtopic and largely subjective IMHO, so I won't offer advice).

    Please note that your "given his young age, this is unlikely to last" consideration may not necessarily hold up - there's plenty of full grown adults demanding (and some getting) antibiotics from doctors for viral infections. (And any Skeptics.SE adherend is more likely than not going to lump homeopathy into the same bucket). Humans are naturally drawn to placebos - and there are medical studies (esp this) indicating that indulging placebo wish is beneficial, assuming the placebo isn't used to avoid real treatment when those are needed.

    An interesting way of handling this is trying to substitute band-aid with "magic mama/papa kiss" - worked for us even with older children who clearly know there's no kissing magic.

  2. Somewhat related (and included) in placebo effect - the child benefits from "I got to do something".

    In other words, it's not simply that they think that the band-aid will help - they get more mental/emotional relief from the fact that THEY are the ones taking the action.

    This is clearly the case if your child is happier if you let them help do the band-aiding (strip the covers, or apply).

    As above, how you handle it should be consistent with other similar issues; but personally, I view it as a major benefit, to teach the child to be self-reliant and feel better about attacking and solving their issues.

  3. The child likes the design - assuming the band-aids are child-branded.

    At one point, we had a 100% major correllation between the insistence on band-aids, and whether they were generic CVS band-aids vs. cartoon-themed band-aids.

    The solution to that can be either (a) don't buy cartoon-themed band-aids; or (b) institute an inviolate rule that the latter only are allowed for "real need" situation - e.g. skin damage+blood. All other boo-boos get generic store brand.

    This tactics also solves one of the biggest problems associated with band-aid obsession - money waste. Store brand (or Amazon) in bulk can cost 2-4x cheaper, if not more.

  4. The child doesn't want to see the boo-boo.

    In some cases, this is as simple as a child being averse to the sight of blood or damage (ours was very much like that) and thus band-aid isn't there for "medicinal" purposes but for cosmetic.

    If that's the case, offer non-bandaid replacement - gause, or tie a handkerchief if the location allows.

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    You've provided a very thorough answer that addresses not just the issue that my son seems to have (a mix of 1 and 4), but provides perspectives and ideas for many future parents who run into a similar dilemma. Thanks! – Acire Jun 3 '15 at 14:00
  • This answer is great, but I think it misses one part, which is 'special attention & comfort' associated with band-aids. It is related to the placebo effect, but I just wanted to mention it. The child might feel that when he gets a band-aid, he is being 'taken care of'. My mom used something great (and cheaper than bandaids) which is a 'cold spoon'. She picks up a grandchild, put them on the counter, fusses over them, and make a big show out of cooling down a spoon with water. Then she puts the spoon on, and ask them if it is better? The cooling does help non-bleeding boo-boos, show helps more. – Ida Jun 5 '15 at 22:26
  • @ida - please see "magic kiss" in #1. That addresses what you describe, I think – user3143 Jun 5 '15 at 22:38
  • Yes - I just wanted to say there might be a difference between a placebo effect and a 'special attention' effect. This is a great answer. – Ida Jun 5 '15 at 22:42
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We call them "prophylactic band-aids" for that very reason. We don't allow free access for them to just pull 'em out when they want one, but any time they ask for one, whether the boo-boo needs it or not, we throw one on. Mostly, we have not had a lot of trouble with finding 'em discarded around the house, but when they do appear, a reminder to the child that the Band-Aid needs to go into the trash when it has completed its work is sufficient.

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The only downside is the cost of the bandaids. The child wants the attention of getting the bandaid placed on them. While my suggestion may not be consistent with others, I suggest showing him where they are and letting him put them on himself. Eventually he we tire from the excursion as well as not getting the attention he desires. I'm more of a "go ahead and get it out of your system" parent. If you want to jump in the puddle, go ahead, but you're walking in wet clothes. Children are people and they will generally become more efficient - which means they won't want to walk around with wet clothes, or stop playing long enough to put on bandaids if they have to do it themselves.

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As far as mental health goes, I'm not an expert, but it doesn't seem like a problem to me.

My oldest (3.5) occasionally does this, though we tend to discourage it just because of the cost. Based on how he asks, it's apparent to me that the reason he wants them isn't related to being afraid of injuries or anything like that.

It's because he likes stickers.

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is there a downside to letting him use them as often as he wants?

No, unless buying extra bandaids is a financial burden.

One of my children had a doll that he wanted to put a lot of bandaids on. I gave him a roll of masking tape and he really went to town patching up that doll with longer and longer pieces of tape. Eventually the doll looked like a mummy.

If only our adult anxieties were that easy to assuage.

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