In this episode: Janet responds to an email from a mother who says her “strong-willed, super clingy toddler” has gotten into the habit of incessantly asking her for anything and everything in sight. This mom says that even if she gives her the thing she wants, her daughter will then demand a different object. “It is driving me crazy.”
Transcript of “My Toddler Wants EVERYTHING”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury and welcome to Unruffled. This week I’m responding to an email I received from a mom who has a two-year-old daughter, and she’s lately become very demanding, and the mom says it’s driving her crazy.
Here’s the email I received:
“Hey Janet, I’m struggling with a strong-willed super clingy toddler, a two-year-old girl who doesn’t really play by herself, and lately has gotten into the habit of constantly asking for something or the other. Give me ice cream from the fridge, give me the broom that you’re holding. Give me your utensils, give me your pen, gimme, gimme, gimme.
It’s getting out of hand, not a waking hour goes by when she is not asking for stuff. Even if I give her the things she wants she will ask for what I’m holding or something that is not safe for her, and it’s driving me crazy.” First of all what I find interesting is this mom describes her daughter as a strong-willed girl who’s super clingy.”
What’s interesting to me is that usually you think of clingy as somebody just so needy, and maybe weak and vulnerable, but actually clingy is often a sign that a child is really strong and really needs a strong definitive leader who’s not afraid to say no, and allow this child to let go of this need to control everything and express feelings — unpleasant feelings maybe for the parent.
A fearless leader, a strong leader that isn’t worried that everything this toddler asks for is actually about some deep need that they have for that particular thing. Usually the need is for that leader, that confident, clear leader with conviction in what she says. A lot of this is understanding that children like this, they need to vent feelings. They need to vent feelings often.
It will feel very explosive sometimes, and it can be very scary for us for sure. The challenge with children like this is to find a way for ourselves to normalize that they are children that need to vent a lot and express these feelings. They really need us to be solid.
So the specifics in this situation show that the little girl is getting caught up in asking for all these things. Some of them may be legitimate things that she really wants, and are maybe appropriate to give her, but then she’s getting lost in that feeling of trying to control you, and the feeling of trying to push you to the place where you will hold the line for her so that she can push up against it and maybe fall apart a little and have feelings about that.
Children are so healthy in their ability to process their feelings that they seem to instinctively know how to get themselves to the point where they can vent them. They need our help in that they need us to keep holding those reasonable limits.
Let’s see, the first thing she said here is, “Give me ice from the fridge, okay?” If the mom thinks that is something she needs right there and that it’s appropriate for her to have (I would make sure it wasn’t just “I want this to want this,” or “I want it to throw it around the room,” or do something else inappropriate with) and that the mother feels like this is something that she can legitimately have and that’s not a bother to the mother for her to have.
Then she could say, “Sure, I’ll get you this ice, come on sit down with it here.” Then she says, “Now I want that broom you’re holding.” At that point I would see that this has gone into an unreasonable place, and I would hopefully remind myself, “Okay, whoa, she’s getting caught up in this. She needs me to be the leader here and say no.”
Not saying no with judgment that she’s being so silly and ridiculous, but saying “No, but oh, wow, you really want this broom I’m holding, and you know what? I’m gonna keep holding it, but I hear you really want it.”
At that point the girl might ask for something else, or she might fall apart right there, and do what she seems to need to do, which is share the feelings.
Maybe she asks for something else and then you still have to acknowledge, “Now you want this and now you want that and you want all these things and that must be so uncomfortable for you.” Just saying what you see, just saying what’s going on. Acknowledging what’s happening. You don’t have to jump into to trying to label the feelings. I would just say, “Yes, that’s hard when you want stuff, when you want everything, and I keep saying no. That doesn’t feel good to you.”
This mom says not a waking hour goes by when she is not asking for stuff. When children do these things repetitively, when we’re finding that our child is constantly doing a behavior like this, it could be using certain words that bother us, it could be interrupting us whenever we’re talking to anyone, or on the phone, it could be any other kind of limit testing thing that children do. When that is constantly repeated like this, it is a sign that the parent is not giving the child what she needs, what she’s asking for in these situations which is, again, that confident leader.
Usually we get caught up in that, because we feel like we are responsible for helping our child when she’s asking for these things, or that we do need to respond every time she asks us for something. Or that we feel this is a problem that we have that we have to fix somehow or take care of, rather than trusting and a little bit detaching ourselves. We’re not ignoring it. We’re not pretending she’s not doing this, because that is actually going to give it power. We have to hear it, but if we can hear it in a manner that doesn’t impact on us, doesn’t grate on us every time, doesn’t get us to that place of being annoyed and wanting to explode ourselves, which is understandable if we’re feeling like I gave her that and now she wants this and she won’t stop.
Yes, we’re going to lose our cool, because we are allowing all of these requests to become our problem instead of our child’s need to vent, to have a tantrum or a meltdown, or just to see where their power is with us. To see if they can get us to that point. Sometimes children have a sense that there’s this time bomb ticking in us when they go on and on with these behaviors. They have this overwhelming impulse to test to see, “Okay, I feel it coming, I feel it coming, I’m going to say this again, I’m going to say this again and again.”
It’s not conscious on their part, it is just this compulsion that they have when they don’t feel like we are feeling our own power in that relationship, and we’re giving them all this power to bother us with their words. Finding that place in us where we can trust that our child is going off on a bender here, that she may be having a meltdown. She’s getting caught up here.
Instead, we say to ourselves, “I’m just gonna let her go, and I’m going to rise tall here, and hold onto myself, and hold onto my power.”
Again when she asks, the way that response looks is, “Yes, you want that, I see.”
We are seeing this as, “These are her feelings not my responsibility, and therefore I don’t need to jump to attention each time she opens her mouth. I’m not ignoring her, I am hearing it and not necessarily even stopping what I’m doing in that moment when she’s going on and on, but when she continues I will, I’ll accept and I’ll acknowledge. ‘Wow, yeah, you’re still wanting stuff. I hear you, you want things, you want a lot of things right now. I see that, you’re not happy with me saying no.'”
Whatever we know for sure, I would say that. Mostly it’s not about what we say, it never is, it’s about how we’re perceiving this behavior.
I know there are parents that … I remember this, it’s been a while, now I’m really happy when my children want me for something, but when you have a young child or several young children and they’re constantly
Mommy, mommy, I need you, I need you.”
Maybe they’re not even saying I need you, but just saying your name again and again, and you feel like it hits a nerve each time. I’ve said this in other podcasts, but I think it would be so healthy for all of us if we could learn how to detach that nerve inside us that feels like we have to react to everything that happens with our children, and take our time, hold our space, and do it in our time, and answer when we can on our pace. Not getting into jumping to fix everything that goes on.
I think maybe it’s a natural thing that parents maybe particularly mothers are born with this thing where we have to fix everybody and cater to everybody. It doesn’t help us in these situations, and it doesn’t help our child who really needs to be set free from this testing, testing, asking, asking, demanding, demanding.
We’re the ones that, without meaning to, with our kindness and concern for her, we’re the ones that are encouraging this to continue. Rather than letting her know that it doesn’t bother us, it doesn’t freak us out, it doesn’t call us to action every time she asks for something.
Sometimes, as with this parent, maybe we don’t even notice how ridiculous it is. If she says, “Even if I give her the things she wants, she will ask for what I’m holding, or something that is not safe for her, and it’s driving me crazy.” This is what children do when we’re not getting the message. “Look just stop me,” if she could use her conscious mind there, if she could understand what was going on with her, she would say, “Just stop me, and if you don’t I’m going to keep waving a bigger and bigger flag. Hey, now I want to light a match,” and I mean it’s going to get more and more inappropriate and ridiculous the things that she wants, because she’s so desperate to be set free by a strong leader in her parent.
I hope this makes sense, and I really hope it helps.
Please check out some of my other podcasts, they’re on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher, and I have two books, “No Bad Kids,” and, “Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting.” They’re available on audio at audible.com and paperback at Amazon and an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and apple.com.
Also, my new audio series, Sessions, these are individual recordings of consultations I’ve had with parents discussing their urgent parenting issues. These are available by going to my website, janetlansbury.com, and clicking the button that says “Sessions” on the top toolbar.
Thanks so much for listening. We can do this.