Setting Boundaries for your Attention-Seeking Child

You've spent all day together, and your child is still begging for your attention. Here are some suggestions for setting boundaries with your attention-seeking child.

It’s Friday night. Your husband is out of town, so it’s just you and the kids.

Your suggestion to have a movie night is met with cheers and excitement.

After the popcorn bowls are handed around, you start the show. Snuggling on the couch. Laughing through the funny parts, sniffling through the sad ones.

The movie ends and you shuffle your tired kids to bed.

Leaning down to kiss your daughter good-night, she grabs you in a tight embrace, saying: “I don’t want you to go. I haven’t even spent any time with you today.”


In your confusion (and a little frustration), you say, “We just watched a fun movie together.”

“Yeah,” your daughter replies, “but we didn’t read books together like we always do.”

Sighing, you thank her for the information and promise to keep time for reading a priority, even on movie nights.

(If you ever have another movie night.)

Connection is Important

Giving your kids quality interactions with you throughout the day is key to building a strong relationship.

When kids feel connected, they have confidence that their parents can handle their big feelings, worries, and uncertainties. They know that their parents “get” where they’re coming from, and feel supported, even on those really bad days. Connecting with your kids can prevent a meltdown, diffuse an argument, and decrease sibling rivalry.

So, connection is pretty magical.

But, have you ever found yourself wondering, “We spent all day together! Shouldn’t that be enough?!”

Connection is More than Attention

Hanging out together, running errands, baking brownies, or watching a ballgame are all great activities to do with your kids.  Unfortunately, it may not fill their need for connection.

(I know, bummer.)

Connection is not a set amount of time or a prescribed activity. It’s meeting your child on an emotional level.

It can be as simple as saying, “Oh buddy, it’s such a bummer that it’s raining. I was hoping to go to the pool too!” Or sitting with your daughter while she replays the events from the lunch table at school today.

Connection and Boundaries

But, if you feel like no matter how much time you spend together your kids still demand your attention, it’s time to take a look at  what’s going on.

  • Are you connecting in a way that the child feels emotionally connected?
  • Are you connecting in a way that the child would choose (vs. what you think they would like)?
  • Do they need to feel connected with you earlier in the day or earlier in the conversation?
  • Is your connection genuine, or are you just going through the motions?
  • Are you connecting fairly consistently or just once in a while?
  • Is there something you need before you can connect with your kids well (time alone, more support, etc.)?

Once you feel like you’re doing connection well, in a way that works for you and your child, but your child is still demanding your attention it might be time to set some boundaries.

  • “I love snuggling with you too! And right now I’m feeding the baby. Mama has lots of cuddles for everyone! I can’t wait to snuggle with you next.”
  • “I really want to listen to your story. I am feeling very distracted right now. Let me get your sister settled so I can give you my full attention.”
  • “I love you. Goodnight.” (After the 19th request for a drink of water at bedtime)
  • “I’d love to play barbies with you. I’m going to set this timer for 15-minutes so we both know when our playtime is over.”
  • “You have a lot of thoughts about how other people are wrong. I’d love to hear how you feel inside. Can we draw a picture of your big feelings?”
  • “I can see that you want my attention. And I am cooking dinner. Would you like to help me scrub these potatoes?”
  • “It seems like you are having a hard time seeing mommy spend time with your brother. I wonder what we can do during our special time later? Got any ideas?”

Filling your child’s need for connection should be a joy to both of you. It should bring you together – not leave you feeling resentful or burdened.

Take a peek at your connections. See if you can make some tweaks here and there or set up some boundaries for yourself or your child.

And of course, you may want to rethink movie night.

Nicole Schwarz (couch 3)

Welcome! I'm Nicole Schwarz.

I'm a Parent Coach, Licensed Therapist and Author of It Starts with You. I help stressed, overwhelmed, confused parents find calm, confidence and connection with their kids. No one is expecting perfection here. But, if you’re willing to examine your parenting, find encouragement, or try something new, this is the place for you.

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