Become a “Wants Something” Whisperer: Turning Caregiving-Time Tantrums Into Teamwork

Does your young child’s bath time (or dressing time, or meal time, or bed time) often become a battlefield? If so, Magda Gerber’s R.I.E. approach to parenting can help! Read on to find out how to gain your child’s cooperation during caregiving tasks. 

You hear it constantly: Spend quality time with your child! It’s a goal lots of parents strive for. But what does quality time look like when you’re a busy parent who works outside of your home, and the time you spend with your kids is mostly before and after your work day? Or perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent with multiple young kids to look after. Either way, when it comes to those essential, yet sometimes frustrating, caregiving tasks like bath time, diaper changes, getting dressed/undressed, and brushing teeth – these may be the majority of your 1:1 time with your kiddo. How can you make the most of it? 

This is where the concept of “Wants Something” Quality Time comes in.

Parenting expert Magda Gerber coined this term (Gerber, n.d.), which is less about passive playtime, and more about transforming those everyday routines into opportunities for connection, cooperation, and learning. These are times when the parent needs to do a caregiving task that requires the child’s cooperation — the parent “needs something”, which is distinct from “Wants Nothing” Quality Time when the parent has no agenda and simply is present with their child as they play. “Wants Something” Quality Time is about coming into caregiving tasks with a confident We Got This! attitude instead of a frustrated (and anticipatorily anxious or angry) sigh.

So let’s dive into the benefits of Wants Something Quality Time, the steps involved, and how it can transform your relationship with your child during those seemingly mundane moments.

Why “Wants Something” Quality Time Matters

Let’s be real here – parenting is crazy demanding. Between work, errands, and the ever-present laundry pile, carving out dedicated “quality time” can feel like an impossible feat. But here’s the secret: quality time doesn’t have to be a whole separate event. It can be woven into the fabric of your daily interactions, particularly during caregiving tasks.

Think about it. Diaper changes, bath time, meal times and getting dressed are some of the most consistent interactions you have with your child. By approaching them with intention and respect, you can turn them into opportunities for:

  • Building Connection: These moments offer a chance to connect on a deeper level, fostering a sense of security and trust.
  • Promoting Cooperation: Working together towards a shared goal (getting dressed!) teaches valuable lessons about teamwork and following through.
  • Encouraging Communication: Even with young babies, simple narration (“Let’s change your diaper now”) opens the door for language development.
  • Supporting Independence: As your child grows, “Wants Something” Quality Time can empower them to participate in their care, fostering a sense of autonomy.

Remember: Ultimately, “Wants Something” Quality Time is an investment in your child’s development. It lays the foundation for strong communication, healthy self-esteem, and a love of learning.

The “Wants Something” Recipe: Ingredients for Cooperation

Now that you understand the “why,” let’s move on to the “how.” Here are the key ingredients you’ll need to create a recipe for cooperation during caregiving tasks:

  • Mindset Shift: The first step is to move away from seeing caregiving tasks as chores and embrace them as opportunities to connect.
  • No Multitasking: Resist the urge to check your phone or think about other tasks. This is a time to simply be with your child, giving them your undivided attention.
  • Clear Communication: Let your child know what’s happening (“It’s bath time!”; “I’ll wash this arm first.”) before diving in.
  • Respectful Expectations: Acknowledge your child’s desires, but also set clear expectations about cooperation (“Let’s work together to get dressed and then we can read that book”).
  • Patience: Remember, development happens at its own pace. Be patient with yourself and your child.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Celebrate even small victories! A smile, a high five, or a simple “we did it!” goes a long way.
  • Fun Factor: Inject some playful energy! Sing songs, make silly faces, use silly voices or turn tasks into games.

Remember: This is a journey, not a destination. There will be days when cooperation is harder to obtain. Don’t get discouraged! Just keep these ingredients in mind, keep practicing and being patient with yourself and with your child.

From Tantrums to Teamwork: Putting the Recipe into Action

Let’s take a practical look at how “Wants Something” Quality Time plays out in real life. Here are some common caregiving scenarios:

  • Diaper Duty: Instead of wrestling your little one down, announce it’s diaper-changing time and let them help by offering them the tube of diaper cream or a clean diaper to hold. Narrate your actions (“Now we’re going to take off the wet diaper. Would you like to hold this clean one?”).
  • Bath Time Blues: Make bath time a sensory adventure! Sing songs, tell stories, and let your child splash (within reason!).
  • The Dressing Debacle: Turn getting dressed into a game! Ask your child to choose between two outfits or use a funny voice to have their socks ‘ask’ which foot wants a sock first..

Remember: The key is to involve your child, even in small ways. This fosters a sense of ownership and makes them feel like part of the team.

Troubleshooting Challenges

However well-intentioned and well-practiced you are, parenting in any situation is going to involve challenges. Let’s look at how to navigate the ones that can come up during “Wants Something Quality Time”. 

The Autonomy Phase

Around age two, children start seeking  autonomy (often in demanding ways!). This can lead to challenging behavior during caregiving tasks. Recognize this as a normal part of development.

Balancing Play and Firmness

When your child wants to play during necessary tasks, allow a little playtime. Then, firmly but kindly, direct them back to the task. “Play time is all done, now it’s time to finish getting dressed.”

Staying Calm

Try to remain calm and matter-of-fact, even when your child tests boundaries. Reacting with anger generally escalates the situation. Instead, be consistent and clear about what needs to be done.

Beyond Cooperation: The Long-Term Benefits

The benefits of “Wants Something” Quality Time extend far beyond eliminating tantrums during bath time. Here’s what you can expect in the long run:

  • Stronger Communication Skills: By consistently engaging with your child during caregiving tasks, you’re laying the foundation for clear and open communication. They learn to express themselves effectively and feel comfortable coming to you with concerns.
  • Enhanced Self-Esteem: Feeling valued and respected during caregiving tasks fosters a sense of self-worth in your child. They learn to trust their own abilities and feel confident in their ability to learn and grow.
  • A Love of Learning: By transforming caregiving tasks into opportunities for exploration and discovery, you’re fostering a love of learning in your child. They learn to see the world around them with curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.
  • Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Working together to overcome challenges during caregiving tasks (like getting a squirmy baby into pajamas!) teaches valuable problem-solving skills. You’re modeling critical thinking and finding creative solutions.
  • A Foundation for Healthy Relationships: The secure attachment fostered through “Wants Something” Quality Time becomes the blueprint for your child’s future relationships. They learn how to communicate effectively, cooperate with others, and build trust.

These benefits aren’t just theoretical. Studies have shown that children who experience consistent, positive interactions with their parents are more likely to:

  • Thrive academically
  • Develop strong social skills
  • Have healthy emotional regulation
  • Make positive life choices

“Wants Something” Quality Time is an investment in your child’s future. By putting in the time and effort now, you’re setting them up for success in many areas of life (Gold & Marvin, 2016).

Remember: It’s not about achieving perfection. It’s about showing your child that you’re present, engaged, and invested in their well-being. Even small moments of connection can have a lasting impact.

So the next time you’re faced with a diaper change or a bath-time battle, remember the power of “Wants Something” Quality Time. With a little patience, practice, and a whole lot of love, you can turn those everyday tasks into opportunities for connection, cooperation, and lifelong learning.

Bonus Tip: 

Keeping the Spark Alive: “Wants Something” Quality Time with Tweens and Teens

While the days of wrestling toddlers into pajamas may be over, the need for connection with your older child remains. The good news is, “Wants Something” Quality Time can evolve alongside your growing child!

Here’s how you can adapt this concept to foster deeper bonds with your tween or teen:

Transform Chores into Teamwork:

Wants Something Quality Time doesn’t have to be passive. Turn household chores into collaborative projects! Plan a weekend cleaning blitz together, offering choices about which tasks to tackle first. Play upbeat music, create a competition (who can fold the most laundry in 10 minutes?), or simply chat while you work side-by-side.

Co-Create a Cooking Adventure:

Instead of interrogating your child at dinner, involve your child in meal planning and preparation. Browse recipes together, letting them choose a dish they’d like to try. In the kitchen, assign age-appropriate tasks (chopping vegetables, setting the table) and use the time to chat about their day, upcoming events, or anything on their mind.

Embrace Their Passions (Even if They Confuse You):

Remember that awkward stage when you feigned interest in Minecraft? The spirit remains the same! Express genuine interest in your child’s current hobbies, even if they seem baffling. Ask them to explain a new video game, watch a favorite YouTuber with them, or attend a band performance (with earplugs if needed!). Their enthusiasm can be contagious, and the shared experience fosters connection.

Weekend Warriors: Plan Adventures (Together!)

Wants Something Quality Time doesn’t always have to happen within the four walls of your home. Plan a weekend adventure together based on their interests. Is your teen obsessed with graphic novels? Hit a local comic convention! Do they dream of becoming a marine biologist? Plan a trip to the aquarium. Shared experiences create lasting memories and open the door for conversation.

Use The Power of “Yes, And…”:

Encourage your teen to initiate activities. When they suggest a movie night or a board game, embrace it with a “Yes, and…” approach. “Yes, and let’s order out for dinner!” “Yes, and let’s make it a tournament – winner gets a shoulder rub!” This shows you’re interested in their suggestions and fosters a sense of shared decision-making.


  • Focus on connection over control. Let go of the need to micromanage the activity. The goal is to be together, not dictate every moment.
  • Be flexible. Adapt your approach based on your child’s mood and interests. Sometimes, a quiet movie night is all they crave.
  • Celebrate small victories. Did they actually put down their phone and have a conversation with you? Acknowledge it – that’s a win! 

“Wants Something” Quality Time is an investment in your relationship with your growing child. It’s about finding ways to connect, even when the teenage years throw curveballs. So, put away the screens, embrace their passions (quirky or not!), and create memories together. You’ll be surprised at the good vibes that unfold..

The Takeaway: A Lifelong Journey of Connection

“Wants Something” Quality Time is a powerful tool that can be used throughout your child’s entire journey. In the early years, it transforms caregiving tasks into opportunities for cooperation, learning, and building a secure foundation. As your child grows, it evolves into shared experiences, collaborative projects, and adventures that foster deeper bonds during the often-challenging tween and teen years.

Keep in mind that it’s not about achieving perfection. It’s about showing your child that you’re present, engaged, and interested in their world. By consistently carving out time for “Wants Something” Quality Time, you’re nurturing a connection that will resonate throughout their lives. So, put down the phone, embrace the messiness, and enjoy the journey of connecting with your child at every stage. These simple ingredients can transform your caregiving experience.

1. Gerber, M. (n.d.). Quality time. Magda Gerber’s Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE). Retrieved June 24, 2024, from,thinking%20of%20only%20that%20child

2. Gold, K., & Marvin, R. (2016). Raising a secure child: How circle of security parenting can help you nurture your child’s attachment, emotional resilience, and freedom to explore. Guilford Press.

Check out more ways to support your child’s emotional development!

Looking for additional support?

Dr. Nanika Coor of Brooklyn Parent Therapy offers a variety of services to help you implement respectful parenting strategies and build strong, lasting relationships with your children. Consider individual or parent-dyad therapy sessions, or explore a customized Parent Intensive program designed to tackle specific parenting challenges. These tailored sessions can help you break intergenerational cycles of disconnection and build a more connected, respectful family dynamic.Ready to work on your parenting with Dr. Coor? Click here to schedule your free consultation.