I have been concerned about a particular behavior from my 4-year-old and am hoping it is just unnecessary worry.

We are not by any means big on giving our children over-the-counter medication. We use antibiotics when they are necessary and only provide Tylenol when fevers are high. Lately, we have noticed that when our 6-year-old is sick and receives medicine, our 4-year-old will immediately claim to be sick and want the same medication, even if he feels fine. As expected, we decline that request. When he actually does have a fever and receives Tylenol, he consistently spends the next several hours requesting the medicine again. I can't help but feel like this is an indication of an addictive personality.

Is there anything that can done to help this situation, or is this simply a child who likes the taste of Tylenol? Does anyone recall their children exhibiting this trait and seeing it develop into something more serious?

Some say that it is simply an association with being sick. This might be true if we gave him medication every time he is sick, but we do not. It might also be true if the correlated special behavior was something he wants. Instead, we do not allow TV when a child is home from school so it does not become a reason to be sick. Instead, the pattern I see is he feels better after taking medication and then tends to want it more (as any normal person would). My concern is because he keeps wanting it after the fever has dropped, as though he correlates it with the reason he feels better overall. Hope that clears it up.

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    Sounds like he just might like the attention / special treatment of being sick and associates the medicine with that.
    – Becuzz
    Aug 25, 2017 at 15:08
  • @Becuzz Regardless of whether he receives medicine or not, he still gets special attention so I'm not sure why there would be an association.
    – T James
    Aug 25, 2017 at 15:15
  • I'm thinking more of something like "Jimmy is sick, so Jimmy gets to sit on the couch and watch TV and not do chores, not go to school, etc, etc". That is the kind of special attention / treatment he might see if his sibling is sick. And he may have associated that treatment with the medicine and not with being sick (because, at least in some families, if it doesn't merit taking medicine, it may not merit special treatment).. So taking medicine (whether enjoyed or not) equals not going to school, etc. So asking for medicine may not indicate addiction, just a desire for special treatment.
    – Becuzz
    Aug 25, 2017 at 15:34
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    Is this children's Tylenol (flavored syrup version), or the unpleasant tasting tablets?
    – Acire
    Aug 25, 2017 at 15:45
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    I think your jump to "addiction" is not only a pretty large leap, but displays a lack of understanding of real addiction. That might be the reason for the downvotes. Aug 25, 2017 at 20:24

3 Answers 3


Children can be odd in how they respond to illness. When one of my children was not even two he caught a stomach bug. We all did. But everyone got better within short order, then the toddler became sick again and this time he stayed sick for 10 scary days. We saw the doctor, went to emergency, it was really one of the most scary and unpleasant things I recall in parenting. My children, bizarrely recall this time fondly. No kidding. What they recall is us all cuddled up for a few weeks, sleeping on a mattress in the living room, watching movies at odd hours of the day and night, and like it was a bonding experience, and I guess in some way it was. Everyone was sweet and kind and just trying to get through it. I recall waking up in a panic over and over, no sleep, lots of tears from my little one and myself, so much laundry and clean up. And yet, even 7 years later once in a while one will mention that time when we camped out on the living room floor and how "great" it was. It astounds me how children view things so differently.

I say all that to say, it's impossible to know what association he might be making of it. He may simply like the taste. He might believe it "keeps" him healthy versus makes him feel better, or just that it does make him feel better. He could be at a "me too" age where he wants to be included in anything he thinks his sibling is getting.

I wouldn't worry too much though. My children ask for their vitamins constantly at 4. As they get older and can grasp that "too much of a good thing is bad", I am able to help them understand that more vitamins isn't a good thing. The 3 year old however is begging all day on & off still. They all did at that age. The 7 year old already understands that there is a reason I allot what I do to each child based on age/weight and what is healthy, more is not healthy. He never asks other than if it is the appropriate time and he is reminding me. They all used to ask often though. I figure they almost see it like a treat since it's kept locked up, up high, etc and part of the intrigue at that age is what they cannot have.

  • 1
    Thank you for this, I am rather fond of the experience-based answers because it reminds us that we are not alone. I suppose the confusion stems from the fact that our older child never exhibited these traits, in fact she despised taking medication. It's a good reminder on how different kids can be, even when raised in the same way.
    – T James
    Aug 25, 2017 at 20:50
  • We are definitely not alone and none of us are doing this gig perfectly. I have 2 grown adopted children (they are birth siblings) and 3 of birth children and I am messed up one way or another for all of them, more than a few times. The great news is, the more you have, the more you realize that mistakes are fixable and that every child is very different, even when they have gone through the same exact things basically and lived very similar lives. I almost think we should all have twins first to teach us that lesson quickly. ;)
    – threetimes
    Aug 25, 2017 at 20:59

I think that @threetimes is definitely on the right track here, but I wanted to add something else as well.

I have a distinct memory as a kid of taking medicine for something and then being very worried when whatever was wrong didn't immediately get better. My mom finally told me that I had to wait the length of an entire episode of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood (1/2 hour) after taking the medicine before I could decide it wasn't working.

And I think many parents have had the experience of how a kiss can make things better, or a bandaid placed on any "ouchie" whether it needs a bandaid or not, can be very effective for helping a child feel better.

Almost every medical treatment with my two kids began with either ice in a towel, or a glass of water...it's amazing how effective these things can be with minor bumps, bruises, headaches, etc.

My real point is that to small children, medicine is essentially equal to magic...they don't know why it works, they just know that it does. If you think about it that way, it may be that your four year old is a slightly anxious person, and needs something to help himself believe that he won't start feeling bad again.

It might help to provide him with some other types of "medicine" that he can request-a hug from you, a small glass of water, a bandaid-I am sure there are a number of other things that might work. The real concept you would be addressing by doing this is to provide him with some tools for self-soothing that he can choose when to use for himself.

You can tell him that certain types of medicine can only be used when parents decide on them, but there are other types of "medicine" he can choose for himself if he is feeling bad. This can provide him with a sense of capability (which is super important when you are four), and can provide you with some clues as to whether or not he does seem to be anxious, allowing you to help him deal with that from an early age.


A major way that children learn is by copying behavior they see from others. see here and here. It is most likely that you child sees you giving medicine to your other child and just want to be part of the attention.

Also, kids medicines are usually sweet so he may just like the taste.

TLDR: don't worry about it.

Side suggestion, Just tell your 4 year old that he is not sick and doesn't need the medicine and then give him attention is some other way. Like for example playing his favorite game.

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