Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

The Transition from Connecting: When Your Child Wants More More More!

"My 7 yr old daughter seems to have a difficult time having her 'cup filled.'  Even after 5 minutes of games where I’m doing what she wants whether it’s the tickle monster game or a game of cards with her—something that I consider quality time —she is still needy and can’t turn it off.  Even if I’ve given the 2 minute warning, she will continue to jump all over me and then when I’ve clearly stated it’s time for bath, etc., she stomps off. Her attitude negates the fun time we just had. Even when I try to validate her feelings by saying that I know it’s hard to stop the fun, I can’t get through to her.  I do understand that she is probably trying to tell me that we need to do this more often and I am working harder at making sure we get that quality time together but when I’m just spent at the end of the day, I don’t know how to respond to her need for more more more when I feel I’ve just given."

We can all relate to this, right? After all, the parent has just spent time focusing intensely on her child, “filling her cup.” It’s the end of a long day, and it isn’t easy to summon up our patience and presence to spend Special Time with our child, even for a few minutes. At this point, any sane parent is moving kids toward bath and bed. After this nice interaction, shouldn’t the kid go off to her bath with a smile?

Yes, or at least that’s what we hope for! And sometimes, some children will. But many kids won’t, at least some of the time. And if we want to get through the evening without a rupture in our relationship, it helps to understand what’s happening. Here are some reasons kids might struggle when you end Special Time:

1. Her cup isn't yet full. 

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but when kids are away from us all day, they need us intensely in the evening.  Five minutes of one-on-one "quality time" may not be enough for your child, especially if she can't count on it daily. She's finally got your undivided attention; why should she let you go?

Imagine you've been waiting for a few days for quality time with your partner. After five minutes of a lovely connection, your partner says, "Sorry, we have to stop now."  You might have a hard time transitioning, too. You might even feel hurt.

2. It wasn't what he needed. 

Maybe the activity was fun, and maybe your child even chose it, but maybe it didn't fill his deeper hunger to be held, adored, and wholly accepted.  Those needs are best filled through physical play, not card games, reading, or other "structured" activities. So if you're having a hard time fitting in daily roughhousing as well as special time, try combining them. Let your child choose what to do with his Special Time every other day (except that screen time and reading are off-limits). Then, on alternate days, you the parent reserve the right to choose, and always opt for physical games that get your child laughing. Depending on your child's age, chasing him around the house, a pillow fight, or a contest to take off each other's socks (let him win) will work like magic. 

3. It did fill her cup, but she doesn't make transitions easily. 

All kids have a hard time with transitions, which is why we give them two minute warnings.  But some kids need extra help to get themselves from one activity to the next, especially when they're physically wound up from playing with us and the next activity moves them closer to bedtime. So don't take your child's upset as a reflection on your playtime. When you see it from her perspective -- she was just getting going! -- it's a reasonable response.  Don't let the tough transition negate the nice connection you just made.  Keep your own attitude positive. Is there a way to continue your game in some form as you get her into the tub?


4. She needs more connection with you.

When you first begin doing Special Time, your child is likely to feel a sense of great relief. Finally, she has you all to herself. But now that she’s finally had your full attention and adoration, she has to give you up all over again, which brings up the grief and loneliness of all the times she wanted more connection with you than she was able to get.


5. Your quality time tapped into some big feelings that need expression.

This might be the most common reason for your child having a hard time when you disengage from close time together. Every child grapples with challenging experiences every day, from having to sit still in class to making new friends to being afraid of the dark. All day long, he stuffs those emotions until he has a safe time to process them. When you connect deeply with your child, he feels safe enough to let those troubling emotions surface. So it's not surprising that just when we start to disengage, he gets swamped with feelings.


If your child has a hard time stopping your Special Time, make sure you allow an extra 10 minutes in case there’s a meltdown after you’ve spent time connecting deeply. When he gets angry that you have to stop, stay compassionate and connected. If he cries, welcome his tears with understanding and be willing to sit with his pain. Be grateful that you’ve provided the safety to help him surface this pain. You’re healing something much deeper than Special Time coming to an end.


Acknowledge his feelings: “You’re upset that we have to stop playing. You just don’t feel like it’s enough right now. You can count on Special Time tomorrow, Noah. And right now we do have to stop… I’m sorry this is so hard for you.” What if he cries? Wonderful! That’s an indication that the connection you’ve made is helping your child feel safe enough to go into scary emotional territory and show you some emotional baggage he’s been dragging around. You’ll be amazed at how cooperative and affectionate he’ll be after a good cry in your safe presence. I know it’s bath time and you want to move on with your family’s schedule, but he won’t cry forever and this won’t happen every day.

Most parents in this situation get frustrated because we wonder if what we’ve just given our child made any difference at all. The answer is, yes, yes, yes! Every bit of love and patience you extend toward your child makes a huge difference. Your child is giving you an opportunity to help her heal. Don’t take her reluctance to let you go as anything but a vote for more closeness, and an SOS for your help.


Finding time for Special Time with kids is always tough.  After all, parents by definition are sleep-deprived and stretched way too thin. But that doesn't mean kids don't need that time with us. Most parents say they're astonished at the difference it makes. If you can't do it daily, then prioritize a longer Special Time where kids choose the activity on weekends, and make sure there's 15 minutes for a laughing game with all the kids every day before or after dinner, plus at least five minutes of snuggling with each child (in addition to reading) at bedtime daily. 

If it means the kids wear clothes still wrinkled out of the laundry basket, who cares?  You're giving them the emotional foundation they need to thrive, today and every day, for the rest of their lives.

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