I am a child and teen life coach and a mother of 3, but as I’ve mentioned before my coaching doesn’t always work on my own children (click here for the last post on Kids and Teens don’t listen to their parents).
However I’ve coached and helped many children who are very attached to their parents (I’ll use mothers as the example as its most common,) and helped them to feel safe and protected even when their mothers weren’t with them. So I want to share a few pointers if your child is struggling with this.
I have a daughter called Sienna, who is 8 years old and she is very clingy. (And I hate labelling children!) She is more clingy than the other 2 children; age 7 and 3, put together. She has been this way for a long time but I won’t say she was always like this; as I’m sure I did something some where along the road to change her! I think it was a girls weekend away in Madrid when she was 1 or 2 years old. I never told her I was going away, just disappeared off for a few blissful days with my friends. And then arrived back 2 nights later to a different, less trusting child. (Which reminds me, I must have a chat about that with her now that she is older!)
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Anyway here are a few tricks are tools to help your clingy child let go of you, these have been gathered from working with clients, and from my own personal experience:
- Thoughts: The first is the most important – Ask the child what they are saying to themselves in their head when they don’t want to go into school (or where ever it is; parties, play dates, activities… I’ll use school as an example as its the most common) They may not understand you at first so give them an example.. ‘in your head what are you thinking? Are you saying to yourself ”I don’t want to go in’ ‘I want to stay with Mammy’ ‘I don’t like it’. What exactly are you saying to your self at that moment when you won’t go in?’ Try get them to realize that they are having an internal chat in their own head about it.
- Deal: Depending on what they say try to make a deal with them. If they say they want to stay with you all the time, make a deal to spend more time together just the two of you, or agree to give extra cuddles or hugs in the morning and after school. If there has been a big change to their life its very understandable, maybe a new addition to the family, or a death, parents separation, new school, house or child minder. Do your best to come up with a plan together that would make them feel better about the situation. It may not solve the problem but at least it will make them feel better.
- Rewards: Once you have gotten to the bottom of whats going on in their heads, and come up with a deal together, it’s no harm to move onto rewards or smiley faces on a chart for the days they detach themselves easily and go in. Then a treat or reward when they get a few in a row (use whatever you think will motivate them short term). We are doing a weekly reward of a few euro in a toy shop on Friday, if Sienna goes into school quickly for 5 mornings.
- Friends: If you find there are problems in school or elsewhere and your child doesn’t have the friendships that they would like to have, make a special effort to help the child to make new friends. Actively arrange play dates, (go find the child they want to play with more and seek out the parents contact details, put yourself out there to help, its the best lesson for your child to see you being brave, they model everything we do!) and make sure the teacher or adult in charge knows the difficulties. Another option is to arrange to meet a friend first and allow them to go in together. Or ask the Teacher or adult in charge, to meet your child at the door. Some children like to be ‘handed over’ to the adult in charge, and not just left on their own to go in by themselves.
- Ritual: Have a ritual with your child when saying good bye – I always have to kiss my daughter on the palm of her hand, her Junior Infants Teacher started this ritual. She told me about a book where the mothers kiss stays on the hand magically all day, and if the child is missing their mother they put their hand up to their cheek, and feel the magic kiss that was placed there earlier. (We never actually got the book, but the ritual has lasted) You can also try a long hug and tell them to feel your love, and remember they are always in your heart and you are always in theirs, all day even when you are not together. Even when they are gown up and not living at home, you will always have all this love in your heart for them. It will never ever go away.
- Imagery: You can also use some clever imagery that some kids love. For example the child is spider man or woman, and you have a secret web that goes from his or her hand to yours and that’s how you will always come back for them – you are magically attached. In our house we talk about using the ‘brave’ muscle and the more you use it the stronger and stronger it gets. But you have to start using it to feel it getting stronger. You can also ask them if they know how much you love them and its your job to protect them from anything bad. Talk about how you take your job as a Parent very seriously and they have to trust you, you wouldn’t leave them somewhere unsafe, and you will always come back for them. Reassure them that you would never just leave them there alone. If you were running late, you would make a call or ask someone else to pick them up but remind them that you will always always come back for them.
Sometimes things happen to scare a young child into thinking you are never coming back for them, and therefore they don’t want to leave you. No-one is born clingy. Talk about times that may have upset them, or caused the clingy-ness when they were young and explain what happened. Maybe you were late or they got lost. No-one is perfect, we are just human, we do our best but things can happen. Ask your child to trust you again. Always be honest about where you are going (I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way). Try to stick to your word and if they need more love and attention from you to feel secure, then do your best to keep on giving it.
Best of luck, please let me know if this helps you and your family. Also if you found this helpful please like, and share with others that might need some new ideas. If you don’t want to miss another Confidence Clinic blog – scroll down to sign up for an email every time a new article is released. And you can also join our facebook community.
If you need any help with this or other difficulties please get in touch, I’d be delighted to help.
Caoimhe O’ Grady Tegart – Child and Teen Life-coach
The Confidence Clinic