Toddler Demands Constant Attention

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I have just ordered Positive Discipline for Preschoolers and Positive Discipline the First Three Years but while I wait for the books to arrive I could really use some advice. I am a single mother of a 16-month-old girl. Her father has her occasionally but I am with her more or less 24/7 and sometimes I get really stressed out. My main problem is that she wants my attention all the time and if I don't give it to her she starts to cry and cry until I do something about it. I don't seem to have 1 second to myself and sometimes I get really frustrated.

For example when she is in her high chair she throws her food on the floor and screams to get my attention: I have tried to reason with her, I have shouted, smacked her hand, ignored her, fooled around but nothing seems to work. When I am trying to cook or get ready to go out she follows me around crying and pleading that I pick her up. How do I get through to her? How can I communicate with her effectively so that she realizes that I still love her even if I am not giving her my undivided attention.

She is still breastfeeding although I have just stared to wean her slowly. I wear inaccessible tops so that at least when we go out she cannot just grab titty when she wants and I offer her alternatives. She still needs to breastfeed to go to sleep and to soothe her when she wakes up during the night and I feel I am still months away from weaning her off completely.

Maybe it's the fact that we are on our own that has made her so demanding. She is a very sweet, loving and happy child but when she is so clinging and demanding I find it very hard not to feel angry towards her and frustrated at myself for not being able to get through to her. What should I do? I don't want to be an angry, sad mummy I hope you can help me.

Kind regards, Isabel


Isabel, Your question is so typical of so many I'm receiving lately. Children needing "Undue Attention" seems to be epidemic. I say "undue" because everyone needs attention. Undue attention crosses the line into needing attention all the time. I'm thinking of writing a book about this called Extreme Parenting, because I believe parents train their children to demand undue attention by giving it to them "in the name of love."

I want to make some very important points that relate to your question.

  1. You can't reason with children under the age of 3 1/2 to 4. Their brains have not developed enough to understand reasoning. Fully developed reasoning doesn't suddenly kick in at 3 1/2 to 4 years of age, but gradually begins. You'll read much more about this is the books you have ordered.
  2. This is one reason it is NEVER a good idea to use any kind of punishment--no shouting or smacking. This instills a "sense of" doubt and shame that only leads to a sense of discouragement and thus the need for more attention.
  3. The one thing you mention doing that could be effective is ignoring. However, you have to ignore consistently. Ignoring isn't the only parenting tool you can use, but let I'll give you some important components of this method.
    1. It is not okay to ignore ALL the time. I know you don't do that, but it is important to point out that children need attention and a sense that they are loved.
    2. Allow your child to have her feelings. Crying is the biggest part of her language right now. If she has trained you to be her "royal carriage" (carrying her around a lot), she isn't going to like it when you stop. Again, let her have her feelings. She'll learn that she can survive and at a subconscious level will start feeling more capable.
    3. Choose the things you are going to ignore, or the times of day, and then be consistent. If you ignore for awhile and then give in, you have trained her that crying works to get you do do what she wants. For example, if you decide to put her in her high chair for 15 minutes while you cook dinner, let her cry if that is what she chooses to do.
    4. Have faith in yourself and in your child. Show confidence that you are doing the right thing to help her learn self-reliance and a sense of capability, and confidence that she can do it. She will pick up you energy. Children sense when you mean it and when you don't. I know how hard this is, so you might want to talk to her (knowing that she can't understand your reasoning, and that your talking is really for yourself), saying things like, "I love you, and I know you can handle this. I need some time for myself right now, and I'm looking forward to our time together later."
  4. Create a routine and stick with it. Plan plenty of special time when your give your daughter your full attention, and as much time as you need for yourself, and then follow the above suggestions.
  5. Allow time for training. Some habits have been created that aren't easy to break. Weaning is never easy for the weanor or weanee. Know that it will not be easy and do it anyway because ultimately it will be good for both of you so your daughter will feel capable and you’ll be a happy mummy.

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