How to handle a needy kiddo. This is an image of a boy pouting.

How Parents Can Respond to a Needy Child and Build Their Self Control

Here is a great question I received from a mother of a 3-year-old girl:

Help needed: In the last few months, have noticed a growing trend. After we put her to bed…the “requests”…rather the “demands” begin. “MOMMY!!! MOMMMY!!! MMMMMMOOOOOOMMMMYYYYY!!!”

At first it was simple stuff that’s easy to fix…”I have to pee.” I thought I fixed the issue by stopping at the bathroom right before bed. But the demands persist and I think it’s just a symptom of not wanting to “break the emotional ties” for the day. So how or what do I feed her emotionally before bedtime, since we’ aren’t really breaking ties, just letting them rest, but how do I “do” that with her so her little heart knows that. Our routine consists of bath, books, rocking/singing and back, arm, leg scratching, and prayers.

Parents, Think Needs vs. Wants

We always meet needs because that creates and maintains the attachment we have with our child. Here is a great scholarly article that outlines the developmental stages of Needs and Wants. I like this article because it has a lot of research cited and great topic areas to focus in on.

When we have a want we set limits against it. By setting a limit, you are helping her develop self-control. In fact it is the only way self-control develops.

How to Set Limits Against Wants

Give her your expectations for bedtime with choices embedded with in them: Researchers recommend that parents and teachers work in close collaboration to help preschoolers learn emotional regulation through consistent rules and expectations.

“I am happy to read to you, cuddle, etc… but when the stories are done it will be quiet time and sleep, would you like two stories or three?” (Notice the Choice).

When all is done, walk out and say ” time for quiet time and sleep.” When she calls for you, NO response. If it escalates, go in and say, “It is quiet time. If I have to come back in here again it will be an energy drain (handy outline) for mama tonight.

Impact Parenting also has an online resource to teach how to use Energy Drain to bring a calm, consistent consequence.

How Do I Respond to My Needy Child?

The key to answering this great question is to determine:

  1. Is this a need or want? Dr. Foster Klein with Love and Logic® always says, “When in doubt, err on the side of meeting the need.” But if you think it is a want. Then set the limit. By the way, you gut always knows if it is a need or want. Go with your gut.
  2. Set limits with calmness, consistency. Be sure to be clear about your expectations, give as many choices as possible to share control and them follow through with actions. If things escalate, use Energy Drain.

You might also be interested in:

Sick Child Care – Need vs Want

Responding to Disrespect

Rule for Sleep

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