Updated: Dec 15, 2021
We've all been there, we go to a children's party and our child suddenly refuses to let go and join in on the fun! How frustrating! If you've noticed your child has become increasingly clingy, that can be difficult to manage in everyday activities. In this blog, we break down five ways to reduce your child's clinginess.
We start by understanding what "clinginess" actually is. Your child has a strong emotional or behavioural reaction to being separated from their primary caregiver. This "clinginess" can appear at almost any age, from the time your child is an infant, as a toddler, or older child. They may cry and become inconsolable refusing to leave the side of their primary caregiver.
There are significant events or changes in your child's life that can trigger this "clinginess" such as going through a divorce, moving to a new area, having to change/start at a new school, losing a member of the family. These events can cause stress in your child and they may display this behaviour as they process the changes. Another reason is that your child may be naturally introverted and takes some time to "warm-up" to people and social events.
Talk about what you're going to do
Imagine yourself on the night before your first day at a new job. Nerve-wreaking right? Imagine if you didn't know you were starting a new job at a different company until the moment you arrive at the office building. I imagine you would be freaking out too!
This is a great way to think about what it must feel like for your child, coming to a new situation without much of a chance to prepare mentally. So a really great way to avoid a full-blown meltdown is to talk to your child about what they are going to experience, it may not work as well the first time but as you make this a continued practice, you allow your child to work through in their head what they are about to experience.
Acknowledge your child's feelings
Your child might be feeling nervous, anxious, and even excited! By acknowledging and validating their feelings it becomes a vital learning experience as well. You can say things like, “We are moving to a new place. I know that it can feel sad and scary. But it is okay to feel that way. I feel that way sometimes too! But I know it's going to be a fun time for our family so let’s take some deep breaths together.”
For children who are moving to school and anxious about making friends, roleplay potential scenarios and conversations. These work for any type of activity such as play dates and birthday parties!
If you find that your child struggles to name what they are feeling, help them label the emotion (e.g., anxious, sad, nervous, worried, or scared). Putting a name to the feeling makes it less overwhelming and easier to manage.
Model how to Calm down
Children learn the most through their environment and their experiences. They repeat the things you say, and most importantly, they tend to "copy" your behaviour. Practice naming your emotions as they happen around your child. For example, if something has made you anxious, start by identifying the feeling. Then do a breathing technique to calm yourself down. When you have settled down, talk about the incident, express what made you anxious, and now that you're in a calmer state of mind, point out how you will go about responding to the situation.
You've now set an excellent example and framework for managing one emotion. It shows your child that it is possible to experience a whole host of emotions and deal with them in an appropriate manner instead of letting a feeling take over and be a driving factor in your response to a situation.
Respond instead of Reacting
You can "catch" your child just when they're about to experience an episode, as you know your child the best. You know the triggers; you understand how they are feeling and what will make them feel better. Label those emotions, reflect on those emotions presently with your child and work together with your child as they are dealing with the feeling to know that they are not alone. Being solution-based around emotion teaches your child to move past and start responding productively to their situation.
Reinforce when your child puts in effort in dealing with their emotions appropriately.
Practice makes perfect
As with anything, practice makes perfect. When your child is beginning to display an emotion, identify it and reflect on it. Your child will continue to experience emotions that are intense and on both ends of the spectrum. They are and can be equally overwhelming.
As a parent, you will also need to discern between discipline or using the moment as a teaching opportunity. If you're out in public and your child throws a tantrum, you might want to soothe them to avoid stares; however, you will find you get an even bigger response from your child more often than not. Use it as an opportunity to teach your child instead. What would be the most appropriate way of handling their feelings?
For example, during a tantrum, try to limit the "talking" you do to your child and avoid asking why they're acting the way they are. Instead, allow them two minutes to experience their feelings uninterrupted. Then tell them that you will both count to 10 to stop crying. When they've calmed down, gently acknowledge their feelings.
How Play Therapy helps.
Play Therapy in essence gives your child the necessary skills to be emotionally regulated. It generally also fills a wide gap in therapy services for young children. Through "Play" your child's therapist equips them with a precious toolkit to be successful at managing their emotions and transitioning to activities without you. Play Therapists are able to connect with your child and reinforce how your child puts in effort in dealing with their emotions appropriately. Emotional intelligence requires children to use a part of their brain that is still developing. Your child does not have all the "equipment" needed to control their impulses, identify their emotions, and express their emotions.
The home environment is the primary influence in shaping the way we respond to things. When a Play Therapist works with your child, they empower them to build on ways to handle their emotions well. It is effective with tangible results that have allowed children to make massive strides in their emotional and behavioral development crucial in managing tough transitions like being separated from you!