My boyfriend's 8-will-be-9-in-a-month daughter is with us for the summer. Her mom lives many states away so summer is dad/daughter time while mom has her for the school year. I am having troubles with her trying to draw my attention to her every 10-30 minutes.

Some background:

When she came to us, it was really obvious that she is behind developmentally. Last summer she could successfully shower herself with no issue when she and her dad stayed the weekend at my place. The first several days this summer she could not wash her own hair because mom washes it for her until I walked her step by step how to. She also struggled with brushing her hair. Single digit addition & subtraction was a struggle. She has poor fine motor skills compared to what I had at her age. We've gotten her able to successfully shower on her own again, as well as brush her hair without issue. She's practicing math each day with some games and it has gotten much better. I'm not asking about any of this, I just want to give context here.

Details of the issue

She wants to be constantly near us and is seeking our attention. Some ways she does this:

  • My boyfriend and I had just walked over to the kitchen area from the living room where she was working on a puzzle. Within minutes, she's walking over to give a hug. We were still in sight of her & the puzzle.
  • When I have to take her to work so that she is not alone all day she is sitting right next to me and says things like "Look" to get me to look at her craft.
  • When I am working from home, she is downstairs on the couch playing/entertaining herself while I am working on the computer. I am in sight of her and she still comes over to hug me / ask me questions (start conversations) / try to get me to look at something.

Dad yells at her when she does this, such as "Stop coming over here just because we are." "I told you to play in your room." I tend to start gently reminding her the rules. "What did I say about bugging me at work? Drawing my attention is bugging me. I need to concentrate." I get more forceful each time I have to repeat myself.

Stuff we do together

I get that this poor girl is starved for attention and I have been trying to give her attention. For example she is in the kitchen about 1/2 the time I am helping me. We make breakfast together on the weekends (sausage and eggs). Through the week she makes herself oatmeal or cereal while I am fixing my breakfast and we eat breakfast together. When I am cooking dinner, she mixes things and stirs things for me. She sets the table to eat. When I am home for lunch/dinner we eat that together too (no real idea when I am not home if dad eats with her). She helps me with housework like folding laundry. I have gotten her some skill appropriate crafts and have worked WITH her on them. I do my crafts on the couch next to her. I try to find time to spend with her. The other day I played dolls with her. At work she is literally sitting next to me at my office desk with a book, coloring activities, and a craft to keep her busy. And every 10-30 minutes she is trying to get me to focus on her. (When we are at my office I make sure it is for at most 4 hours because I know how boring it is, and I work from home when I can). Being at work with me only happens when my boyfriend is scheduled to work during my work hours and I have meetings during that time.

Closing remarks

I am an introvert and her constant attempts at getting my attention are wearing me down to the point where I don't have much energy of an evening to spend positive time with her because I need to be alone to recharge. By not have enough energy I'm talking about tired to the point of exhaustion and making myself sick. And I do REALLY need her not to constantly bug me at work as I have to concentrate on what I am doing.

What are some ways to help her not seek my attention every 10-30 minutes?

The closest question I could find was this one but it is for a 4 year old, and the accepted answer will not help, as she is already a part of most things I am doing from doing laundry, to watering the plants, to taking out the trash. I have taken advantage of her willingness to help, but she cannot help me develop software at work.

  • Are you willing and/or able to send her to a day camp? It sounds to me like your step-daughter is attention seeking for two reasons. One is that she needs positive attention, and you're giving all of this you can. The second I that she's bored and lonely. She needs some friends to hang out with and some activities to do, and camp could provide both with the added benefit of letting you get some work done.
    – naomisl
    Jun 23, 2016 at 19:51
  • 2
    I can look into day camps, but I will need to get buy-in from my boyfriend. I have tried to get him to agree to vacation bible school (just 1 week day camp at my church) but since he hasn't made it to church with me he doesn't want to send her to VBS at a church he doesn't know. She loves the kids time at church that I have taken her to. Maybe she can make friends there to have play-dates with.
    – adeady
    Jun 23, 2016 at 20:29
  • Just checking: Are you in the UK?
    – user19912
    Jun 24, 2016 at 0:19
  • @LeopoldoSparks No I live in the USA
    – adeady
    Jun 24, 2016 at 0:53
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    Children are happiest when they are playing. Play is not a means of passing the time, it helps build important social skills, etc. Do you not have friends or family with children of their own? People you trust? You could invite their child or children over to stay for dinner one night. While you are working, cooking etc, the kids will be playing outside or indoors. Set up some games they could play. If the children hit it off they will want to be in each other's company and with luck the 9-year-old will be invited to spend an evening at her new friend's house. The kid's lonely
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 28, 2016 at 23:03

4 Answers 4


It seems painfully obvious that this little girl is starved for attention. The fact that you are not able to give her as much as she wants just leads her to be more clingy and needy, which, in turn leads you to push her away more.

I can totally understand your frustration. I am an extremely introverted person also, and one of the most difficult things for me to adjust to when I became a mother was the loss of down-time. Hardly a day goes by that I don't want to tell my daughter at some point "stop bugging me and go entertain yourself" but (and you are not going to want to hear this) that would only make things worse.

Try to think of ways that she can be near you without being too disruptive. If you are cooking, try to find some small task that she can do. My daughter also has delays and coordination issues (she can bathe herself but cannot manage to get the snarls out of her hair or wash it by herself), so it is difficult to think of things that she can do to help, but I ask her to stir soup or set the table or clean up a spill or take out the garbage. I find that if I give her enough things to do she eventually gets tired of it and wanders off to read a book or watch TV just to get some time to herself :)

If there is something quiet that she likes to do, let her do it near you. If she starts pestering tell her (calmly, do not yell at her for needing your attention, your boyfriend needs to cultivate more patience) that if she can't be near you quietly she will have to go into another room.

Let her work on her puzzle in the same room where you are reading a book. Find some TV that you can watch together. Read aloud to her, from a book that you enjoy. Or have her read to you, maybe while you are cooking. When you go shopping, take her with you. If you have a task that she can participate in, try to make her a part of it, if you can.

One of the tricks is to rearrange your way of evaluating her participation in activities. We are used to thinking "will her participation in any way make this less work for me?" Instead, ask yourself "is there any way I can include her in what I'm doing?" The more you include her, especially if she's "working" and not just playing, the more she will start seeking her own down-time. And it might be that once you get used to having her helping you, you might find new pleasure in her company.

Expecting a nine year old to sit and play by herself all day while you work is expecting too much. You might be able to pull some hours while she watches a movie with headphones but it is not healthy for a child to be just sitting all day. Maybe you could at least go for a brisk walk or jog for fifteen minutes every few hours? If that isn't possible, for her sake and yours, you need to find some other arrangement.

It sounds like she is trying very hard to do as you ask her. She can't stop needing what she needs, though. She is lonely and starved for interaction with the only people she has access to. Is there a way you can set up play-dates with other kids? Do you have friends with compatible children? Is some kind of summer day camp a possibility? You didn't mention anything about your financial situation, but if you can afford it, this might be a good way to give her more exercise and social interaction. Another possibility is to find a young high school or college grad looking to make some extra money and hire her to come by for a few hours and take your charge to the YMCA or the park, play board games, or other fun things.

It also might help if you set up a regular schedule for positive interactions with her. For example, you might set aside 7 PM to 8 PM each day for an activity of her choice. Making puzzles, watching TV, playing a game...whatever you do, you should do all together. You, her father and her. And if you make this promise to her, and keep it, it might be that she will be able to wait with more patience.


Here's an idea. Have a timer and tell her "we're going to " after I get 2 hours with absolutely no interruptions." Each time she interrupts, you restart the timer (oopsy, darn, we need to start over). If that works you can gradually increase the time. Be sure she has something quiet (but engaging) to do while you work.

Here's another idea...you and she can be doing something together if you are both "working". There are a lot of great educational apps out there (does she have an iPad or anything similar?). If you give her schoolwork or something else that engages her mind while the timer is running, you can treat both of yourselves to fun things after "work" (maybe ice cream, or a walk in the park).

That gives her something to look forward to, and can help her wait quietly, knowing she has a treat coming. I'd tell her that you have a certain amount of work that needs to get done each day, and if you can get it done faster (read: without interruptions) you will be able to stop working sooner and you and she will have more time for fun. If she can't manage to keep from interrupting you, then, regretfully, you won't have time for the treat. Make sure she knows you are disappointed because you were looking forward to it.

  • 1
    I'm beginning to think that I really need to push dad to spend more time with her because I suspect it is not much while I am at work. I did edit to (hopefully clarify) that I am spending time with her and letting her participate in housework with me. I guess I just need to always add 50% more time to cooking so she can be in there all the time with me. My big problem is that she still bugs me when I am within eyesight and trying to work.
    – adeady
    Jun 23, 2016 at 19:08
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    Here's an idea. Have a timer and tell her "we're going to <do something fun>" after I get 2 hours with absolutely no interruptions." Each time she interrupts, you restart the timer (oopsy, darn, we need to start over). If that works you can gradually increase the time. Be sure she has something quiet (but engaging) to do while you work. Jun 24, 2016 at 16:14
  • That's the kind of answer I was hopeing to get!
    – adeady
    Jun 24, 2016 at 20:46
  • I'll add it to my answer, then :) Jun 27, 2016 at 17:10

What you describe makes me think that she is not only starving for attention, but for physical contact.

Is there anyway that besides the 'chores' you do with her, you can do something that involves snuggling? Like watching a family movie, reading a book to/with her.

You might want to think of her need of physical contact and attention in terms of a younger kid than her actual age. When I work from home with my 5 or 3 year old, they do need to come by my computer and see what I am doing. I usually give a quick hug, tell them I love them, and then tell them that I need to work and they can't sit on me. I then suggest something for them to do.

She is also probably quite upset of her dad yelling at her for 'bugging him' - she is visiting to see him.

I think you need to have a conversation with your boyfriend about what you can do for his girl (I assume you are interested in helping her, not just making her go away).

From your description it seems like he needs to step it up. He needs to be very patient with her and her needs, especially as she is developmentally delayed.

He probably needs to reassure her lots and lots that he loves her.

You should also really try to do some fun outings as a family together.

last thing - is it possible for you both to take a week off and be on vacation with her? Even if it is just at home. Then after that, maybe she needs something to do like a summer camp.


Get her father to take her one weekend day per week without you, so you have time to recharge. After all, she's his daughter, not yours, even though you seem to be doing a much better job at parenting than her actual parents are.


That child is desperate to feel loved. It is quite obvious she gets almost no attention at her mom's house, as she is developmentally behind. I would encourage you and her Dad to spend time with her. Do not put her in the same situation as with her Mom.

A child is not just some nuisance to be dealt with until they are out of the house--sometimes it feels that way, I get it, I have 3--they are the little balls of play-doh that need to be molded into adults. Everything you do right now will teach her how to live and deal with events when she is older.

For example, if she asks to help you while cooking, TEACH HER. Bring her to you and show her what you are doing step by step. This makes her feel loved, included in the family, and gives her life skills. Doing activities like this with her will alleviate some of other attention seeking behavior.

Having a child is difficult. No longer do we get to do what we want all of the time. You and the Dad need to shift your thought process away from the way it is now, to "how can I equip this little person to be an adult"

  • 1
    Its NOT that I am not spending time with her. Maybe I should make that more clear. Every weekend right now she is in the kitchen and she and I are making sausage and eggs. I'm starting her with simple things like scrambled eggs and browning meat. Measuring things for baking. I've worked with her on some craft things to build fine motor skills -- she is making herself and I lots of bracelets and rings. I play with her when I can and I try to make sure that I spend SOME time with her even on work days. She and I read together most nights before bed. continued ...
    – adeady
    Jun 23, 2016 at 18:20
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    The problem is that I can't spend every waking moment with her by my side. I KNOW that this is probably because she is not getting enough attention at home or not the right attention and I cannot fix it. Sometimes I need to cook quickly because its dinner time and there is not much she can do at that point and I chop faster when I'm not having to tell her to get her fingers away from the blade or asking 1000 questions. Its just trying to get her to respect some space for even 30 minutes at a time.
    – adeady
    Jun 23, 2016 at 18:26

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