By Dr. Laura Markham
“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?