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Temperament and Parenting
A Newsletter About Caring for the High Maintenance Child by Kate Andersen, M.Ed.
Issue Theme: Anxiety and Separation Problems in Young Children
Volume 21, Number 9, May 2019
Letter to Kate
I have a four-year old (our only child) who is as cute as a button and his father and I love him to pieces. However, he's beginning to wear us down. The thing is that we are very busy with our home business. Mickey manages to interrupt at the worst possible times and to ask for snacks, etc. when I am on a business call. He also has a way of having "accidents" (things falling over) in another room just when I am tied up working on an estimate or contract.
My mother thinks we are being cruel to work from home and "ignore" Mickey. She says we should put him in day care or hire a nanny. But we don't ignore him - we just want him to wait for a few minutes until we can deal with his many demands. We think he's a lucky child to have both parents at home all day. I spend an hour every morning playing with him and teaching him to read. His father spends an hour in the afternoon with him. We give him our full attention in the evenings and we don't accept business calls in the evening or on weekends.
We have had Mickey's temperament assessed. He's moderately active, slow to adapt, highly persistent but low attention span, moderately distractible, positive in mood, high sensory threshold, regular, and approaching. We don't see him as 'difficult' but he is becoming demanding.
My sister has worked from home with two children under foot. She has not had any problems with her children bothering her. I know that parents in other cultures work with their children around, too. Why are we having so much trouble with this? And what can we do about it?
Dear Role Conflicted:
There are a number of suggestions in your letter that make me think you need to examine your expectations of Mickey to see where the problems are. In the first place, there's not much point in make comparisons with other cultures where socialization practices can be vastly different. You'd have to do more than just work from home to make things work the way they do in other cultures. Secondly, your sister had two children at home not one. Did they play with each other and keep each other occupied? Did her children have very different temperaments from your son? What ages were they? What kind of work did she do and how did she manage her two roles?
The bothersome behavior you describe, interrupting and arranging accidents, are clearly attention-seeking strategies. It's pretty normal for young children to be demanding and to become more and more demanding unless demands are handled properly. If they have to go to the lengths of creating accidents to get attention, something is not working.
Although Mickey does not have many of the temperament traits that lead parents to describe a child as difficult, he does seem to be low in the task orientation triad of activity level, attention span and distractibility, though he can be highly persistent. A child with these traits often has difficulty initiating and maintaining play, especially without a play partner or parental coach. Such children can get bored easily, too, and often need changes of activities and toys sooner than other children. I'd like to know more about how whether you structure Mickey's day so that he has interesting (to him) things to do and gets feedback from you about how he is doing. I would also like to know if he has some indicators from you about when you are free and when you are busy so that he can learn to time his requests for the moments when you can respond. Do you work in an office that is clearly marked off as workspace or do family life and work overlap?
Don't think you are being cruel to work at home and keep Mickey with you but it is possible that the arrangement will not work well without major changes in the way you set things up and respond to Mickey. To manage him effectively may take more time away from your work than you want to give. If that is the case, I would recommend placing him in day care or moving your work to an office and hiring a nanny. I would not recommend working at home and also having a nanny though some families can make it work.
Some parents who share a home-based business alternate their roles as "parent" and "worker" with the time as parent being dedicated completely to that role. It seems to me that you are a little idealistic as a parent and looking too much at examples of the way things are working in other families. Parenting isn't a contest. Try to accept Mickey for who he is, and work on accepting his temperament by making truly workable accommodations to it. I hope this helps.
Best of luck,
to some common questions about behavioral style.
Origins, impact on parenting, risk for behavioral issues, relationship to ADHD, and other topics.
Goodness of Fit
How temperament is assessed.
Poor fit can lead to stress and possibly emotional or behavioral problems
When professional help is needed
There are qualified individuals from several disciplines who counsel parents and children.