Psychologists have identified two forms of insatiability—material and experiential—that greatly interfere with attention control. Children with experiential insatiability are extremely hard to satisfy. School-related routines such as processing information and producing written work do not quell their appetites for intense experiences. In their frustration, at what feels to them like stultifying boredom, they are likely to pick fights and generate noise and commotion. They may become serious behavior problems.
Avi showed symptoms of both material and experiential insatiability. And he had maneuvered himself into a position at home where he had his parents feeding his insatiability in their mistaken notion that they were working at controlling it.
Some children who crave excitement satisfy these needs in constructive ways: bicycle riding, swimming, rollerblading, skateboarding, or developing and pursuing a hobby or passionate interest. For Avi, athletic activity or hobbies were not enough. He needed things, the flashier the better.
Children with insatiable needs long for material gratification so intensely, they seem unable to delay gratification. They can wear their parents down with their incessant—and insistent—needs. They often have trouble taking turns, sharing with others and waiting in line—behavior that often triggers animosity from classmates and siblings.
Insatiability during childhood, if channeled properly, can develop into healthy ambition and goal-oriented activity in adult life. However, it also carries a potentially dangerous side effect, one that could culminate in substance abuse, reckless driving, impulsivity, and risk taking. In some adults, it manifests in marital instability and problems feeling comfortable and satisfied in a career.
Home Is Not A Democracy
Many children who manifest insatiability and are very articulate become extremely argumentative at home. Often by an early age they can outdebate their parents as they present their arguments for getting their way. Impressed with their own eloquence, they believe that scoring points in an argument entitles them to whatever it is they are lobbying for.
Experts in family dynamics say that allowing a child to flex his intellectual muscles and debating skills in arguments with his parents is inevitably destructive.
It is important to get the message across to children as early in life as possible that the home is not a democracy, and that parents are the decision-makers.
Parents should be alert, say education specialists, to the dangers of overindulging insatiable children with material possessions. The inclination to provide excessively stimulating daily experiences to children with insatiable tendencies should be consciously reined in.
“Parents should avoid a constant succession of planned recreational activities, shopping trips, and super stimulating electronic games,” says author and psychologist Dr. Mel Levine in his book on attention dysfunction, Educational Care.
He goes on to say that parents who fall into this pattern will soon be paying a king’s ransom for a few moments of peace and quiet in the house. Ultimately, the stakes will be raised even higher as the insatiable child learns he can hold his parents hostage with bad behavior until he wheedles out of them just about everything he wants.
Far from curbing incessant demands, says Dr. Levine, “the constant feeding of an insatiable appetite merely increases the level of a child’s insatiability.”
Children who are highly insatiable may require careful, ongoing counseling to help them bring them under control.
One technique that has proven effective is practicing conscious delay and substitution processes. This teaches a child to postpone gratification and substitute something else when he or she cannot attain a goal. One method of delay is to reward the child with what he desires only after he has remained focused on some other necessary activity.
Another method is to designate specific times during the day during which children can talk about things they want to have or do, and to some degree have their needs met. These children should be drawn into mature discussion about other possibilities that will be nearly as satisfying as the object of their intense desire.
Taking The Reins
In Avi’s case, when limits were first set to his prize winning, intense reactivity set in. His negative behavior plunged to new depths, as he tried the old methods of manipulation and found they no longer worked. Avi’s parents received counseling to learn how to enforce limits while practicing delay and substitution techniques. They rode out Avi’s angry outbursts and his attempts to destabilize the atmosphere at home, and raised the bar for earning rewards for good behavior.
Gradually, Avi’s acting out lessened as he came to terms with the “new management” and his behavior began to turn the corner.
Over time and with guidance, Avi’s parents learned to recognize and resist the manipulation behind their son’s habitual wheedling, and insistent bargaining for things he wanted. They learned to cut short arguments and debates and to stand firm behind their decisions.
Today, almost a year later, Avi’s insatiability—and its fallout on his ability to focus his attention and process information in school—has not been “cured,” but it has been reduced and brought under control.