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Dr. Wolf: My child won't give me any space. What should I do?

From The Globe and Mail

The problem

Some children just don’t give you any space. It can be very irritating.

Six-year-old Anya’s father was preparing supper when Anya started in.

“I’m bored.”

“Daddy, Andrew’s bothering me.”

“I want a hug.”

“Daddy, look at my dolly drawing.”

“Anywhere I am, she’s there. Literally. I turn around, there she is.”

It can be suffocating.

“Why can’t she be like her brother? He’s so easy. Give him a paper clip and he’ll play with it for hours.”

They seem so needy. Parents cannot help but feel that it must be from some inner lack. Somehow, not enough love and attention. Probably their fault. And so they try to fill the emptiness. But that usually only adds to the problem. The more you give, the more they seem to crave. A bottomless pit.

What not to do

Don’t try to fill the inner void. There usually isn’t one.

It is normal and not unhealthy that children can be very piggy and controlling of parent attention. It is normal and not unhealthy to want everything. Problems come not from their wanting every bit of their parent, but from their being too successful at getting it. They come to feel that their want is a need.

What to do

Give them love and attention, but at a level you are comfortable with. Love is far better when it is given, rather than when it is the result of having been grabbed at.

Here you need to be tough. For the stakes are high.

“No, Anya, I am not going to look at your dolly drawing right now. I will when I finish what I am doing.”

“But when? When are you going to finish? When is that going to be?”

“Anya, you will just have to wait.”

“But I want you to look at it now.”

“No, Anya you will have to wait.”

“No. Now.”

And here Anya’s father must disengage, say no more – even if Anya does not. It is a very important line to draw. And it must be drawn repeatedly for such children will be very persistent. Daddy space. Daddy time. A very hard line which you need to protect. Where a parent lets his child intrude too much on all parts of his life, it is not good for the parent and it is not good for the child.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books including I’d Listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at [email protected].

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