Q. My child tries to control everything and everybody. Her demands and rages absorb every bit of patience and compassion in the house, and still she wants more. She’ll act out to keep us paying attention to her. Any ideas?
A. This is not easy. These “ambivalent attachment style” children, who create drama and burn out the patience of everyone around them, are usually desperate to stay in your thoughts. The quickest way to do that is to break things — rules, pets, objects, people. Because if they are not in your thoughts, as Kevin Creedin points out, they are afraid they will disappear. Each of us would do anything in the world to keep from disappearing.
With ambivalently attached children especially, you will end each day exhausted — your real choice is whether you want to be exhausted from trying to respond all day to your child’s lead, or be exhausted from planning and consulting in advance, staying four steps ahead of their desperation, and being proactive. That is actually the easier and more therapeutic way to end up exhausted.
Try delivering good times in combination with No.
“I’m so happy when we are snuggling like this. And you know when you knocked your sister over yesterday? That’s the last time. I expect you to change, and I will help you change. That’s what adults do for kids — did you know that? Our job is to recognize when you are stuck feeling little, and then we help you with that stuckness.
“So you have work to do, and I’ll coach you and provide consequences later and also some help giving repairs to people. I might yell at you if you break the rule again, and I still won’t swear or call you names. I might yell because I pay attention now, and I care about how you’re doing. I want to feel so close to you.”
“This attachment stuff is important for everybody, but it never gets examined until it breaks down.”
— single father, librarian