Sometimes children can behave like little tyrants, especially when they are exhausted or frustrated. However, some go one step further and turn demand into a habit that they apply to everyone and in all circumstances.
It is difficult to please them and they are usually very impatient, so they want their desires to be satisfied immediately. They have a difficult character, are very demanding or demand too much attention at inappropriate times, so many parents end up giving in, which further reinforces this demanding behavior.
The dynamics of childhood overdemand
First of all, it is important to keep in mind that demandingness is not a personality characteristic, but a type of behavior. Children become demanding when they constantly demand that they be attended to, looked at, pampered, and have their needs met promptly.
In fact, their demands go beyond the natural childhood needs for love, attention and care to become disproportionate and misplaced demands. In general, demanding children are characterized by:
• A low tolerance for discomfort and frustration
• Feeling extremely distressed when their demands are not met
• Being particularly demanding and even unpleasant in their requests
• Focusing on the negative side of things, finding flaws in almost everything
• Being very sensitive to failure
The relationship with these little ones is usually marked by tantrums and crying, so parents often give in to their demands, which further reinforces their demanding behavior. On many occasions they adopt an arrogant and mortifying tone, making managing these situations particularly difficult.
When children behave in a demanding manner and ask for things inappropriately, many parents can feel helpless and even embarrassed, especially if they are in a public place, so it is normal for them to become upset and react with anger, harshly reprimanding them in front of others.
However, although these little ones need clear limits, feeling humiliated, criticized or embarrassed usually generates great frustration. And when their brain is flooded with overwhelming feelings, it simply shuts down and can’t process anything else, so kids don’t learn the lesson. As a result, the parental reaction pushes them towards greater deregulation and reinforces the demanding behavior that they want to eliminate.
What happens to demanding children?
Responding more appropriately requires an important change in mentality, which begins with understanding that children are not expert manipulators nor are they born spoiled. The most important question parents should ask themselves is: “What is happening to my child?”
In many cases, the excessive desire for attention and demand is due to the fact that children are not receiving enough affection from their caregivers or because their emotional needs are unmet. It could also be because they are going through a particularly difficult stage of development or are facing life changes that make them anxious.
The loss of a grandparent, for example, the divorce of parents, a situation of bullying or the beginning of the school year are events that can destabilize the emotional sphere of children and cause regressions that reactivate behaviors from previous stages, such as greater egocentrism or the demand for constant attention.
Highly sensitive children can also become very demanding because they experience sensations and experiences with greater intensity, which can overwhelm their nervous system, making them more likely to react with irritability. In those cases, when a need arises or something unexpected happens, they feel so uncomfortable that they demand immediate attention to try to alleviate that discomfort or distress, simply because they need to escape the discomfort they are experiencing.
Other times, overexertion has its roots in the education received. If children become accustomed to being the center of the universe and parents satisfy their needs immediately, without teaching them to be patient, they are likely to become increasingly demanding and self-centered.
In homes where children do and undo as they please, any change that implies a loss of power or the restriction of their domain will generate family tensions. Children are likely to become depressed or react aggressively to try to impose their wishes on parents who do not know how to say “no.”
Teach demanding children to be more patient and understanding
When parents can understand the causes of their children’s behavior, they can experience more empathy and respond in a more loving and effective way to help them accept that things will not always go the way they want or expect.
To face these situations, the first step is to remain calm since parents are their main role models, so if they lose their temper quickly, they cannot expect their young children not to do the same.
It is also important not to immediately give in to their demands so as not to reinforce that behavior. Instead, you can apply the following “formula”:
1. Validate their experience by making it clear that you understand what they are going through
2. Establish the limits that should not be crossed
3. Teach them to tolerate discomfort by providing other behavioral options
For example, if your child constantly interrupts you while you’re talking to someone else, you can say, “I know it’s hard to wait. As soon as I finish this conversation, I’ll listen to you. In the meantime, you can play.”
Your child needs to know that you understand and listen to him when he has difficulties. He should also know that you will help him manage that discomfort. But at the same time he has to learn to arm himself with patience, tolerate frustration and get rid of that egocentric and demanding attitude.
You should also teach him the difference between a respectful request and a demanding one. Explain that he should use a kinder tone of voice and ask for things with “please.” When he adopts an arrogant attitude, point it out and ask him: “Is there a better way to ask for what you want?” and do not satisfy his demand until he puts it in better manners.
Obviously, staying calm is easier said than done, but when you’re about to give in or explode, it’s important to remember that children’s tantrums are also harmful to them. Children do not need their parents to give in to their whims or immediately satisfy their desires, but rather to become their rock and teach them how to weather the storm. And often that means not giving in to the impulse to immediately try to improve everything.
If you respond with firmness, love, and understanding, you will become a role model for dealing with everyday frustration. When you set limits and enforce them, children will experience less long-term discomfort and gain emotional autonomy, so they will be better able to cope with life’s setbacks without assuming a demanding attitude. This will reinforce their self-control and self-confidence, helping them to be happier.