Dear Dr. Debbie,
My very dramatic three-year-old has gotten in the habit of asking for a band aid about once every other day. Sometimes I distract her, but other times Daddy finds it easier to just give her one. I’m confused about the message(s) we’re giving her. Yes, I’m concerned if she is hurt (though there’s no blood), but the cost of band aids, or anything else, shouldn’t be taken so lightly.
Sympathetic but Frugal Mom
Don’t miss last week’s column Can Commitment be Taught — Good Parenting
We impart values to our children with our words and actions every single day. The consistent patterns of our behavior become absorbed by her to form a value system she can use going forward. Inconsistent patterns, or rash decisions that are contrary to our normal patterns, confuse a child.
Compassion, Comfort and Emotional Security
Your daughter is learning compassion and comfort when you stop what you are doing to attend to her (perhaps imagined) injuries. At the tender age of three, your daughter still needs to know that you are concerned about her well-being at all times. It may be that her “injuries” occur when you have been busy with other things. If distraction works to save a band aid, it may be because you are now talking to her and engaging with her in something interesting.
Experiment with resolving to give her 100% attention for a couple of hours to see if indeed her need for treatment stems from feeling ignored. If during your time together and for at least a few hours afterwards she doesn’t ask for a band aid, then simple lack of attention is likely the cause. Try to make some play time or chore time or story time together a daily routine so that she can learn to count on one-on-one time with you.
It is very age-appropriate for her to seek parental attention, and only she can determine the amount that is sufficient. If the call for band aids persists despite oodles of loving attention, it is possible that band aids represent physical reassurance that you are available to provide all the care she needs. Chalk it up to the typical anxiety that a three-year-old passes through as she becomes more and more aware of the all-too-common instabilities and dangers in her immediate world. In some cases there may be a rational reason for her to be overly anxious – the ongoing illness of a family member, a new sibling, tension between her parents, etc. All the same, a band aid and the tender touch with which you apply it, can give her the momentary reassurance that she always has a grown up looking out for her.
Consistent Budget Consciousness
Thriftiness is another important value to impart to children. When you pause during your shopping to weigh costs out loud, even though she can’t follow the math, you are setting a model of budget-consciousness. A similar value is to avoid the waste of material things. In this case, a perfectly good band aid has been given up to a false alarm.
The cost range for simple band aids is about two cents each to ten cents each, so one approach to your dilemma is to invest in the least expensive you can find for the wounds that only require emotional attention. As the saying goes, if you mind the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. Tuck away a box with the antiseptic built in for attending to actual skin punctures. These are more like twenty-two cents each and are well worth the price for their efficiency with helping a wound to stay clean and heal quickly. These are not to be wasted.
Another tactic would be to forego band aids except for use on actual broken skin and instead devise a “medical kit” for imagined injuries and to purposefully play with. This could include a roll of masking tape or a partially used sheet of mailing labels on which you draw a simple band aid design. When you and she play doctor or nurse with each other, she will get to receive and dispense as many band aids as she wants during your pretend play. If you take this route, your consistent “no broken skin” rule teaches her the value of not wasting that which has been bought for another purpose.
Talk things over with Daddy and any other adults with whom your daughter spends a lot of time to get their views. There is more chance there will be consistency when you determine which approach feels most comfortable. Then declare your band aid policy and “stick” to it.
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.