This post is a continuation of last week’s post on toddler manipulation (and if we should even be calling it that).
The most common cause for a toddler (or even an older child) being labeled as manipulative is the classic, “oh, he’s just looking for attention.”
Attention, though, is a basic human need. Babies in orphanages who do not have human touch and interaction often fail to thrive; NICU babies who have visitors who hold and touch them are more likely to recover sooner; one of the significant advantages of breastfeeding over bottlefeeding is that you cannot simply prop your baby up with a breast to eat, forcing that physical touch and attention (on a side note – if you *are* bottle feeding, there’s no reason not to give your baby that cuddle time too!).
And it’s not just babies – we adults need attention and affirmation too.
And we are very good at figuring out how to get the attention we need; so if positive attention is not forthcoming… then we move on to Plan B: negative attention.
This is all subconscious, of course – your toddler thinks about it just as much as you do. So the same way that you do not calculatedly complain in order to get attention, your toddler does not calculatedly protest at bedtime in order to get attention. She simply does what works.
So if she doesn’t or can’t get the attention she needs during the day, for whatever reason, and she knows that putting up a fuss at bedtime, waking up in the middle of the night, or waking early in the morning will mean that… mommy comes and cuddles her, or takes her into her bed, or sits with her, or lays with her or whatever it is and give her some good, quality one-on-one time, then she’s going to keep on protesting.
Or if he knows that refusing to eat his lunch will mean that you sit with him until he finishes it, then he’s going to continue to refuse it.
Now, as a disclaimer, there may be a number of things at play here – props, control (which we’ll discuss next week), lack of consistency, and unclear expectations can all contribute to this kind of behavior, but making sure that your child has some one-on-one time is super important for his growth and development – and for making sure bedtime stays on track.
So what does one-on-one time look like?
Just the two of you
That means no siblings, no cousins, no friends. You should be totally focused on this child, and this child ONLY. Put away your phone, turn off any electronics, and focus exclusively on him.
Once you have more than one child, you’re likely going to have to be conscious about building that time into the day.
Down on her level
Let her dictate how to she wants to spend this time with you. Sit on the floor with her in some child-led play. Reading, cars, house – follow her lead and give her your all.
Ideally, if you can, 10-15 minutes of one-on-one time a day is best, with either parent. Practically speaking, though, when you’ve got a bustling household and every afternoon is a mad dash through supper, homework and bed, it may be hard for you to fathom. If you can, some parents will do 5-10 minutes of one-on-one time right before it’s time for the child to go to sleep.
Otherwise, do as often as possible, but at least once a week. Try to divide and conquer with your husband on Shabbos and Sundays (if he’s home), to give each child some personal time with at least one parent every week.
Don’t think lack of one-on-one time is the problem? Well, how about choices?