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It's easy to cure 'watch me!' syndrome
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Q: Shortly after our second child was born a year ago, my 4-year-old son began asking me to stop what I’m doing — usually something with the baby — and see something he’s done or “watch” him do something. Over the past year, this seems to have become a compulsion. He makes these (usually trivial) requests of me at least once an hour. Is he insecure because of the attention I’m giving his younger sister? Is this his way of being reassured I still love him? In any case, I can’t keep this up. — Help!
A: The idea that these incessant requests are your son’s way of obtaining reassurance that you still love him now that he’s got some competition is an example of what I call “psychological thinking” — superimposing a psychological explanation on a behavior problem. The inevitable result is disciplinary paralysis. In this case, you’re unable to put effective limits on your son’s interruptions because you think they stem from some unresolved psychological need which, if curtailed, will turn him into — what? — a blithering idiot?
To put this into perspective, compulsive “Watch me!” syndrome is fairly common among 4- to 7-year-olds. It strikes only children, oldest children, middle children and youngest children alike. In other words, with or without a younger sister, your son would probably have come down with CWMS.
A child at this age is breaking into new gross- and fine-motor territory every day and has every reason to believe that his parents will be as thrilled with his new talents as he is. So, he wants to be watched while he hops around his bedroom on one foot or tosses a ball in the air with one hand and catches it with the other.
“And now, for my next feat of unbelievable sleight of hand, I will throw two rolled-up socks into a wastepaper basket sitting an astonishing distance of five feet away! Drum roll please!”
I completely concur. This can get old very quickly, especially if your time is hardly your own to begin with. But before I tell you how to solve the problem — and my solution comes with an iron-clad guarantee — let’s get a few things straight. First, being told that you are not on call 24/7 to watch these mind-boggling displays of dexterity is not going to throw your son into an irreversible catatonic fugue. Second, you have every right to establish practical limits on the number of “watch me’s” you will be astonished by per day. Third, this is really quite innocent stuff, after all. It hardly rises to the level of “bad.” I’m trying to tell you, as diplomatically as possible, that you’re taking this much too seriously.
On to my iron-clad solution: Set a limit of three “watch me’s” a day (the number is entirely arbitrary, but I sense that your current mental state will handle no more than that). Cut three rectangular “tickets” out of colorful construction paper and affix them to the refrigerator door with a magnetic clip. He begins every day with three tickets in the clip — that’s his daily “watch me” allowance. Every time he asks you to watch him, stop what you’re doing as quickly as possible and go watch. Then take a ticket from the clip and put it on top of the fridge. When all three tickets have been used, you will not watch another “watch me,” even if you have the time. Three is all he gets, no matter what.
He may well experience some initial frustration with the new quota, but if you stay the course, he will quickly adjust, believe me. And he will be a happier little fellow for it.

Rosemond, a family psychologist, answers questions at his Web site:
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