Give an Inch, They Take a Mile: What to Do When They Just Want More

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road to vegasSpending positive, happy quality time with our kids is always a good choice. Playing, reading together, spending time talking and laughing builds the relationship and helps us to feel like we’re on the same team. It strengthens our connection and breeds respect and understanding, but… sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. I recently had a mother, trying to find the balance between her daily responsibilities and building a powerful connection with her kids, express the following about her increased efforts to give more time and energy to connecting with her kids at their level.

A mother’s dilemma

“It seems like when I give them increased attention or special time or energy they just want more. It often leads to outbursts and it feels like they just feel more entitled.

For example, other night I had laundry to fold and dishes to clean before I could call it a day. I was dutifully working on cleaning the kitchen and the kids were in another room playing. Everyone was content but we were just doing our own thing. It was getting close to bedtime for the kids, but there was some daylight left outside so I decided, “I can do the dishes later. I’m going to go do something with the kids outside.” I rinsed the soap suds off my hands and walked into the room where they were playing and said excitedly, “Let go play outside for a few minutes before you have to get ready for bed.” They all jumped up and said, “Let’s play freeze tag!” I agreed and we all shuffled out the door. We had a wonderful 20 minutes of play together. We laughed and ran and played. Then… I said, “Okay folks, 3 more minutes and then we’ve got to go in and get ready for bed. With that, my six year old lost it! He put on his grumpy face and defiantly told me “no! I want to keep playing! He put up quite a stink, but as the other kids went in the house and I followed suit, so did he. We struggled all the way through the bedtime routine. When he was finally in bed, I sat shaking my head and wondering what went wrong. I said to myself…

Is giving them special time and attention really positive or does it just make them feel entitled and breed more problems? Should I keep giving them my time. Is it worth it? Should I continue to play with them? Am I doing something wrong? If so, what should I do?”

Remember the old saying, “You give them an inch and they take a mile”? It seems like that is true sometimes. As a parent it feels like we can never give enough to make them happy or at least to keep them happy.

I’d like to share with you what I shared with her: first, why you should keep giving that time and energy to play and connect and second, how to cope with backlash if it comes.

Why you should keep it up

1. It’s more fun than dishes. You would have spent that positive twenty minutes doing dishes or folding laundry. It’s fun and it’s a break from the monotony of our usual household “parent tasks.”’

[Tweet “It’s fun and it’s a break from the monotony of our usual household “parent tasks.””]

2. You experienced genuine connection with your children. You would not have had that time together to play, laugh and grow together. That is worth something!

3. You don’t know if the attitude and blowups would have happened about something else if not about that. It’s part of parenting and happens with all kids.

How to cope when they just want more

1. Be flattered, he wants to keep playing with you. Recognize the difference between honest expression of feelings and misbehavior or aggression. If your child is sad or even angry that your time together is over, that is okay. He loves you, cherishes that time with you and doesn’t want it to end.

2. Stick to boundaries. Don’t do things that you will regret or resent later. Give the time and then let it go. When it is time to go back to your responsibilities, empathize with their desire to continue playing. You may even use humor by saying things like, “I know, Mom/Dad is awesome huh? Next, just validate their feelings alongside your boundary. Say something like, “I know you want to keep playing and so do I. Now is time for bed.” Even if they throw a tantrum, it is ok to move on to other things. Don’t threaten, “If you can’t be nice, I’m not going to spend time with you anymore/ we’re going to stop doing things like this.” Although, you may want to discontinue the immediate activity if they are not willing to participate in a kind way. If my child is hitting or is persisting in mean talk and actions, I stop the activity or let them know I’m going to do something else because I don’t like being hit or treated unkindly.

3. Thank them for your time spent together. Even if your child is upset about your special time being over, thank them for spending that time with you. Let them know, now is the time for bedtime (dishes, chores, etc.) but that you look forward to the next time you will get to spend that special time together. If you are moving on to something other than bedtime or “me-time”, it may be appropriate to invite them to continue spending time together doing the tasks that you need to get done. Especially young children, love helping and can continue to bond and can learn helpful skills in the process.

Special efforts to spend time with your kids and connect in special ways are not wasted simply because they want more when the time is over. By remembering why we do it and following the guidelines above, we build solid bonds and teach important principles of responsibility and respectful communication. There may be some rocky moments but the cycles of healthy relationships that grow out of it are worth the time and energy spent.

Question: What activities do you like to do with your kids that build the connection between you and them? What are the benefits and values you see from it?

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles: Creating Happier and More Effective Parenting THIS Week!”

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