My Child is needy and doesn’t want to do anything for himself.
MOLLY: This came from a reader based in Wisconsin.
Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom): Often when that happens it’s because the kid isn’t getting enough psychological or emotional connection with the parent, or is getting a fair share but wants even more. So he’s using his dependency to get it. This is really not a good thing; it’s basically an unhealthy way to get your needs met.
MOLLY: Not to mention annoying for the parents.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Not to mention annoying, right. Part of the bad effect is that the parents get annoyed and then the kid feels bad and then he gets more needy because he’s not getting something he feels he needs. So, as a parent, you can get caught in a bad cycle.
Hopefully, if this is going on earlier than 5-and-a-half, you’ll want to start addressing it as you soon as you see some sort of a pattern developing.
MOLLY: How do you address it?
DR. RUTHERFORD: There are a couple of things you can do. You can start in stages. If the child says, “I want you to help me get dressed.” Already you know that this is the pattern for the child, so you say, “Well, let’s do it together today, and tomorrow you can pick out your own clothes.” You make it a joint endeavor at first with the intention of moving the child toward doing it by himself.
If he says, “I don’t want to, I want you you to do it,” which is likely to be the first response. You shrug and smile and say “I’m so sorry, I’m glad to help you with this but we have to do this together. You’re quite capable of this, and you want to be able to do the things that big kids do.” You don’t give in. If you give in, if he has a tantrum, saying, “You need to do it for me!” then you simply don’t do it.
MOLLY: What if the response is: “I’m tired, can you do it for me?”
DR. RUTHERFORD: You just say, “I’m sorry you’re tired. If you’re that tired, maybe you need to go upstairs (or to your room) and take a nap. But if you want to get dressed, I’m more than happy to help you with it, but we have to do it together.” This is so that he begins to have a more active role in taking care of himself.
And this can apply to all kinds of things. Like making the bed in the morning. You can do it together.
MOLLY: Then at some point you stop doing it together, and they start doing it by themselves?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, right but for some kids they’ll do it by themselves automatically because they really enjoy the mastery of it. If you have a child that’s really into dependency, then you’ll have to start off doing it together. To get him to do the task all by himself straight away is probably not going to work, and then you’ll get into a real battle and it will become a mess. You want to be careful not to spark off a series of neverending battles between a parent and child.
You’ll want to give a little and you’ll want him to give a little. You’re teaching him the art of negotiation and compromise. It’s actually not a bad model for working with people in life.
MOLLY: What happens if you don’t address these sorts of issues when kids are young?
DR. RUTHERFORD: The long term consequences may be that the child grows up and shifts the dependencies onto people other than the parents, like friends, teachers, girlfriends…
Too much neediness can be very annoying, and people often find they do not want to be around a very needy person. Worse, the needy person ends up not having any sense of mastery or control over his or her life, leading to generalized feelings of incompetency and inadequacy, neither of which feed into building an emotionally stable and competent adult.