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My 4 year old daugther always wants my attention, and I try my best to give it to her. Either by telling stories, playing with stuffed animals, reading books, or anything else she likes to do. I have heard of too many dads who neglect their daugthers and I don't want to be one of them.

But at the same time I think now that I have given her too much. Whenever I am at home (evenings and weekends), she always follows me around and says "Daddy what can we do now?". If I say that I want to be by myself and that she should play by herself for a while she often turns on the waterworks and goes crying to mommy.

What can I do? How can I wean her off my attention? Do I even need to? I want to be a good dad but I also want to have a life of my own.

Thanks.

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    Just a thumbs' up for being an involved parent! I have two like this: they want ALL our time, and even when they're playing with each other they want to make sure we're watching. As an oft-neglected child, I get it and I try to indulge when I can while letting them know that we love them a million percent whether we're playing, paying attention, or having to do boring grown-up stuff. – Valkyrie Jan 14 '15 at 11:17
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    This is our 5 year old. The "Daddy what can we do now?" is heard in our house 3 times a day on the weekends. She's starting to get the hang of playing by herself. We always point her to all the toys she has and never plays with. – Brian Robbins Jan 14 '15 at 19:46
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One way to encourage her to be a bit independent is try to engage in some less explicitly fun things together.

"Well, right now Daddy needs to _____. Do you want to watch/help?" This might be:

  • Fold some laundry.
  • Do light yard work.
  • Cook a meal.
  • Tinker with the car.
  • Write an email.
  • Change a light bulb.
  • Whatever stuff you do around the house that isn't purely for entertainment purposes.

Not every activity with your child needs to be FUN, or oriented to her interests specifically. There's a chance she'll get bored and want to go play on her own (yay, free time!), at worst you get an interested helper who might be able to contribute slightly. My favorite times with my dad were not when he played with my toys or helped me do puzzles, it was when we were in the basement workshop and I got to play with a HAMMER AND SCRAP WOOD while he puttered away on whatever he was puttering with that month.

"I need to do this activity" feels less like rejection than "I don't want to be around you right now."

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    +1 Not only do you get your own chores done, but you're also teaching your child practical skills and a work ethic. – Chris Sunami Jan 15 '15 at 21:13
4

I've seen quite a few articles the last few years like this one that promote the importance of letting your kids have unstructured time, or in other words, to get bored. A lot of our generation worry about quality time so much that they sometimes swing the pendulum too far the other way. A certain balance is important.

It's okay for her to be sad about unstructured alone time starting. At her age, it's not usually a sign that she's starved for attention, or that you've been over-indulgent. It's a normal response. One thing I've found that helps ease the distress is to not just say you need alone time, but couple that with a discussion about future plans. "I need some alone time right now, but later I have a new game I want to try out with you."

Also, it doesn't always have to be all or nothing. My kids often like to do "alone" time quietly in the same room as me.

  • I agree with you (my kids didn't tell me they were bored; if they did, they had to clean their rooms!) That's OK for older kids. Babies start out needing all of our attention and grow to need less and less of it as they go along. While you are needed is a good time to introduce them to things that they might grow to love: nature, art, reading, science, Greek mythology, etc. Before my kids were even in school, we were doing science experiments (the particularly impressive ones usually involved baking soda and vinegar.) Helping them get interested in different things is part of the fun. – anongoodnurse Jan 14 '15 at 7:47
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How do you bring a child into the world without your world being consumed by their needs? Give them a sibling so they have each other! Get them a dog! (Just kidding.)

The answer is, you don't. Parenting is a full time job, and the time you put in now will pay you back when she becomes a strong, independent functional societal unit and still loves and respects you.

That doesn't mean you have to be at her beck and call. It doesn't mean that there shouldn't be activities that she can do quietly. However, it does mean that her needs come first (and here I think I'm sensing some resentment on your part for painting your child in a childish and immature light - she often turns on the waterworks and goes crying to mommy - yes, that is what childish and immature 4 year olds do. They act like 4 year olds.)

You do deserve credit for the things you're doing right, and I admire you for them. You're probably drained at the end of the day and would like to rest some. So what do you want to do? If it's an activity like gaming, then you just need to set priorities. Figure out what is more important to you than your daughter, and do it without feeling guilty. But if you do feel guilty, there must be a conflict in there somewhere.

I don't know your home situation. If your wife is a stay-at-home-mom, she needs a break from your daughter, too.

There are chunks of time that should be your own (away from work), but these should be a small percentage of your time right now. Then there are chunks that should be just your wife and you - a larger percentage of your time. The rest is with your family.

You need to find a balance between doing things with her that you feel obligated but unfulfilled doing (perhaps like playing with stuffed animals or playing Candyland) and doing things that you both like doing (there are some terrifically good children's books out there), outdoor stuff, sedate stuff (kid's movies), etc. Maybe you can do something else while you're attending to her that is shared and fun for you: photography, or art. But it all matters to her. Make it count, be present, impart values to her while doing stuff together.

As she gets older, there will come a time when she will want to shut you out (hard to imagine right now, right?). There will come a time when she will be embarrassed by you, and will even think you don't know anything. It happens with almost all kids.

When that time comes, you'll probably reflect on earlier times and think, what did I do wrong? Everyone goes through some degree of that. The key is to have an answer that is acceptable to the future you.

  • -1: reads like: suck it up and turn off the xbox. I had a similar daughter who was unwilling to play by herself and always wanted to be entertained, it is a real issue that held her back creatively and, later, socially. – dave Jan 14 '15 at 21:58
  • @dave - Fair enough. I do think kids need to learn to entertain themselves; that's what coloring and playdoh and all that is for. But she's 4 years old - too young to entertain herself well yet. – anongoodnurse Jan 14 '15 at 22:08

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