How to Deal with Your Children Clinging to You

The image of a preschooler clutching his mother’s skirt, hanging on for dear life while she tries to cook or walk out the door, is not make-believe for many parents. It’s a real and emotionally draining part of everyday life. Though it may be tough, resist the temptation to constantly attend to your clinging vine as you go about your day. If you want (or need) to leave your child with a babysitter, firmly and lovingly reassure him by telling him that you’re proud of him for staying with the sitter and that you will return. Tell him in a sincere voice that you’re happy he has the chance to play with the babysitter. Your positive attitude will be contagious (as would a negative one). You’ll also be a good model for feeling okay about being separated and having a good time with other people. Provide lots of hugs and kisses during neutral times, to prevent him from feeling ignored and needing to cling to you to get attention. Clinging, unlike hugging, is an urgent demand for immediate attention.

Preventing the Problem

Practice leaving your child with a sitter.

Children Clinging

To get your child used to the idea that you may not always be around, practice leaving him occasionally for short periods of time (a few hours) early in his life. These breaks are healthy for both parents and children.

Tell your child what you’ll both be doing In your absence.

Telling your child what you’ll be doing while you’re gone gives him a good example to follow when you ask him to talk about his day’s activities. Describe what he’ll be doing and where you’ll be while you’re away, so he won’t worry about his fate or yours. For example, say, “Laura will fix your dinner, read you a story, and tuck you into bed. Your daddy and I are going out to dinner, and we’ll be back at eleven o’clock tonight.” Or say, “I need to cook dinner now. When I’ve done that and you’ve played with Play-Doh, then we can read a story together.”

Play Peek-a-Boo.

This simple game gets your child used to the idea that things (and you) go away and, more importantly, come back. Toddlers and preschoolers play Peek-a-Boo in a variety of ways: by hiding behind their hands or some object, by watching others hide behind their hands or some object, and (for two- to five-year-olds) by engaging in a more physically active game of Hide-and-Seek.

Reassure your child that you’ll be coming back.

Don’t forget to tell him that you’ll be returning, and prove to him you’re as good as your word by coming back when you said you would.

Create special “sitter” activities.

“Activity treats” help your child look forward to staying with a sitter instead of being upset by your absence. Set aside special videos, finger-paints, games, storybooks, and so on that only come out with a sitter.

Prepare your child for the separation.

Tell your child that you’ll be leaving and plant the suggestion that he can cope while you’re gone. For example, say, “You’re getting to be such a big boy I know you’ll be fine while I’m gone ” If you surprise him by leaving without warning, he may always wonder when you’re going to disappear suddenly again.

Solving the Problem

What to Do

Prepare yourself for noise when you separate and your child doesn’t like it.

Remember that the noise will eventually subside when your child learns the valuable lesson that he can survive without you for a brief time. Tell yourself, “He’s crying because he loves me. But he needs to learn that although I can’t always play with him and I occasionally go away, I’ll always come back.”

Praise your child for handling a separation well.

Make your child proud of his ability to play by himself. For example, say, “I’m so proud of you for entertaining yourself while I clean the oven.” This will further reinforce his self-confidence and independence, which will benefit both of you.

Use the whining chair

Let your child know that it’s okay for him not to like your being busy or leaving, even for short periods of time. However, make it clear that his whining disturbs others. For example, say, “I’m sorry you don’t like my having to cook dinner now. Go to the whining chair until you can play without whining.” Let a whining child whine, away from you.

Recognize that your child needs time away from you.

Breaks from constant companionship are necessary for children and parents. So keep your daily routine, even if your child protests your doing something besides playing with him or fusses when you occasionally leave him with a babysitter.

Start separations slowly.

If your child demands too much of your time from age one and up, play Beat-the-Clock. Give him five minutes of your time and five minutes to play by himself. Keep increasing the play-by-himself time for each five minutes of time spent with you, until he can play by himself for one hour.

What Not to Do

Don’t get upset when your child clings.

Tell yourself your child prefers your company to anything in the whole world.

Don’t punish your child for clinging.

Instead, follow the steps outlined above to teach him how to separate.

Don’t give mixed messages.

Don’t tell your child to go away while you’re holding, patting, or stroking him. This will confuse him about whether to stay or go.

Don’t make sickness a convenient way to get special attention.

Don’t make being sick more fun than being well by letting your sick child do things that are normally unacceptable. Sickness should be dealt with in a matter-of-fact way with few changes in routine.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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