Am I too responsive?

Dear Naomi, My son is 6 and my daughter is 4. They seem to never be ok with me finishing preparing a simple meal, finishing a short shower, finishing my business in the bathroom, finishing getting dressed, making a short phone calle, leaving to go out – which I rarely do without them, working on the computer even for a minute….focusing on anything else other than them. I do read a book in the same room with them while they’re playing most of the time and I interrupt myself to respond when they’d like me to. If I’m not readily available to them and/or playing with them, they seem to either cry about me focusing on something else, perpetually asking my husband or I to do something for them or getting angry with me and physically hurting me or physically interrupting whatever it is I’m working on or doing (i.e. unplugging the phone, turning off the water in the shower, etc.). Thank you for your thoughts on this. Warmly, C.W. in Atlanta


Dear parent,

Your children are doing what they are supposed to do; they are assertive and they feel deserving. Congratulate yourself and rest assured that they are thriving. At such young ages, they do need this much attention, loving connection and engagement. You may be both, too responsive when they ask for things violently, and not responsive enough when they express their needs gently.

Children learn from us how to ask for what they want. They develop whatever strategies seems to work for them based on our responses. In spite of your good intentions, your children concluded that hitting, grabbing and interrupting is the way to get what they want. They may be feeling a strong need for continuity of care and connection, maybe yearning for you and and having a sense of not enough. 

I know how difficult it can be to care for two young children. The best way you can ease your life is by making sure that they are content. Content children are easier. This requires planning that takes your children’s limitations into account. If their time with you is interrupted, or just not enough, or, if they don’t have daily one-on-one time with you (each by him/herself), then their anxiety can drive them to be aggressive and whiny. 

Even better, being at peace, children will gradually develop tolerance for not always getting prompt attention. Once they are more calm, start providing self-engagement in small ways. Your reading while they play is a wonderful start, make some food while they still eat or other activities that you can do with them side by side for a few minutes a day. They can even shower with you, or play in the bathroom (although it is easier to shower when their Dad is at home.) 

Make sure that they are totally saturated with attention before trying doing things side by side. Make it fun and exciting and stop the side by side activities before the children lose their interest. This way they remember it as a positive experience. Don’t milk the time they do give you when they play together or self-engage. When they need you, be quick and happy to serve them, so there is no anxiety associated with losing mom and then having a hard time getting her back.

Reality is; they need care almost all the time. Listen to what your children are communicating. No one likes to loose connection because of a phone call (even adults resent that.) Listen to your children and make plans that don’t require of them what they cannot do so they don’t feel needy and failing. When my children were young, I either didn’t answer the phone, or briefly told the person that I will call them later when I have help. 

If you must call someone, prepare your children; make sure they are fed, happy, and have something to do. Tell them in advance and set it up without interrupting them, “When we are done reading together, I am going to talk on the phone. Would you like to paint while I talk on the phone, take a bath together…?” Set them up to succeed. If it is not possible, don’t do it. Wait for a better time, when your husband can be with them.

While young children need companionship, they can also do without if for short durations. When they see you trying to get what you want (shower, make food etc.) and upset when you don’t, they are learning from you. They are learning that not getting what one wants right away is a problem to whine about. Be a teacher of willingness to wait. Be at peace when you have to postpone your own need, and they will learn, over time, to be like you.

It is fine to say, “I am going to the bathroom and then I will watch you dance.” If they tantrum, validate their feelings, “I know you want me to watch now and it is so hard for you to wait.” Your children will learn that they can wait when you treat your own and their waiting as a non issue. Stay peaceful yet responsive to their valid needs. 

Warmly, Naomi Alodrt


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *