Some kids are needier than others. A needy child demands the parent's attention in various ways – through talking a lot, asking for lots of things (food, toys, material items, privileges, treats), responding to minor stresses with intense drama, and otherwise seeking lots of attention and connection. Such children can exhaust their parents. In most cases, there are other kids in the family who also need attention – perhaps there is a toddler and/or infant. It's hard to deal with really little ones and a bigger child who "should" be past the needy stage but somehow isn't. What can parents do?
Helping Your Needy Child
Needy children are that way because of inborn temperamental traits (unless they are only temporarily needy due to illness or a particular stress or upset). In most cases, they will tend to remain more demanding throughout childhood. For this reason, parents need to help themselves as well as their child. Here are some strategies for both:
- Try to take parenting breaks – a night out for a class, regular contact with friends, a personal hobby or exercise routine. Don't lock yourself up in the house all the time with a needy child – it won't be good for either of you!
- Read parenting books and take parenting courses – you need more information and options than parents of non-needy children. Keep picking up new tips and strategies because every little bit helps.
- Don't feel obliged to constantly listen to or attend to your needy child. You can set limits on the demands that are put upon you. You can say things like: "Please don't ask me anything else for the next hour – I need some quiet time."
- Even when your needy child doesn't like it, you can say "no." "No, I can't watch right now." "No, you can't buy another sweater." "No, you can't have anything more to eat." Of course, try to say "yes" whenever possible, but don't sweat over saying "no." Teach your needy child not to whine or tantrum when he or she doesn't get the answer that was desired.
- Don't blame your child for being needy and demanding – it wasn't his or her choice. Try to be compassionate; the child is born with a bottomless pit and it actually hurts.
- Use rules and structure to set limits on what the child can have and/or ask. For instance, "You can ask me for only one new item every two weeks, so think carefully about what you want to ask for."
- Use "Emotional Coaching" (naming your child's feelings) to help your child cope with the disappointment of not getting what he or she wanted. For instance, "I know that it's frustrating not to be able to have that toy when everyone else in the class seems to have it. That's really annoying. I know you're not happy about it."
- Stay calm when dealing with this child. Manage your own stress as well as possible (try to get some sleep!) and call a professional counselor when you're having trouble staying "nice."
The Torah tells us to "educate a child according to his way" which means that we will have to individualize our parenting strategies to some extent for each one of our children. When we have a needy child, we have to recognize the child's challenge and our own, and do our best to lovingly address both.