4 ways to combat clinginess in your child

As your biggest supporters we are always on hand to arm you with every clever secret weapon and helpful gadget available to the average superhero parent. In fact, you can think of us as your very own digital Q. So as an added extra this week, we've got some helpful tips for solving one of the everyday challenges of raising tiny ones in today's challenging world.


Many of us have noticed the recent uptick in ‘clingy’ behaviour from our little ones. They’ve had to cope with huge changes to their routine, separation from their social circles and feelings of worry about their own safety and well-being, and that of their loved ones. Exhibiting panic or distress at being apart from us, asking to be carried or cuddled more than usual, even climbing into bed with us – these are all habits that show our little ones are struggling to process the new feelings lockdown has thrown up.

We asked Melissa Hood, author of Real Parenting for Real Kids and Director of The Parent Practice, for her top tips on helping your child feel more secure and confident, especially as they start to transition back to their normal routine.

The level of independence shown by young children is hugely variable and will be affected by many different factors: their temperament, how strong their connection is with the important adults in their life which will determine how confident they naturally are. Some may have been more familiar with their nursery or school setting before lockdown, having been there longer and had more time to adjust, and some may have experienced more challenging lockdowns than others, with varying levels of anxiety or distress at home.

To help your child adjust:

1. Be aware of your own feelings.

Anxiety is contagious, particularly to little ones. If you become aware that your own worries are on display, acknowledge them (in age-appropriate ways) and let your child know what you’re doing to manage them, for example: “I was a bit worried about going on the train to work in case I caught the virus but I’ve decided to wear a mask to protect myself and I’m going in a bit later when it’s not so crowded, so now I feel a bit calmer.”

2. Take it slowly and reassure your child.

Be aware of your child’s capacities and don’t push them faster than they can cope with – after all, they’ve had a lot of changes to cope with recently. As your child transitions back into their nursery setting, ensure you hand over to the nursery team in a way that communicates to your little one that you trust these grown-ups to take care of them. Being mindful of any social distancing measures in place, spend time to hand the caring baton over to the nursery team, smiling and speaking warmly to them to reassure your child.

3. Talk to your child about their feelings.

As you hand over to the nursery team, make sure that your little one knows that if anything goes wrong, or if they feel worried about anything, the grown-ups at nursery are there to help, and you and they are working together to make sure your little one is safe and happy. Let your little one know that it’s ok to feel a bit funny about going back to nursery after so much time at home, and that they will probably miss mummy or daddy. Rather than simply telling them they will be fine or to be a big boy/girl, acknowledge that it’s hard to say goodbye and that you know they might feel a bit sad when you drop them off.

Encourage them to tell you what they’re feeling, otherwise the emotion will express itself through your child’s behaviour and they won’t learn how to deal with it. Even if they’re unable to say exactly what they are feeling, put a word to the emotion you think they are experiencing – name it to tame it! Allowing their feelings out won’t encourage them to feel more anxious but will make them more likely to let the feeling go once it’s been spoken and heard.

Explain to them that other children might be feeling a little anxious too and that it’s possible to feel both anxious and excited at the same time. Remind them that you’ll be back to pick them up at the end of the day and you’ll be excited to hear all the interesting things they have done.

4. Help them to feel secure in your relationship.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive when you’re aiming for independence, strengthen their attachment to you by spending positive time together, playing and letting them know how much you enjoy them, value them and delight in them. The more secure they feel in your love for them, the more confident they will feel in their day-to-day life. Praise them descriptively for lots of things including any signs of bravery, ingenuity, making the most of things or flexibility, and point it out to them. For example, ‘you didn’t make a big fuss when you grazed your knee just now even though I could see it hurt. That was brave of you. You told me you were thinking of the cupcakes we’re going to make.” Encourage them to do things by themselves at home and point out and praise when they have behaved independently, but don’t panic if they seem to regress a little – be patient and support them as they regain their confidence.

Read our favourite story books to help children cope with change and being brave here

Melissa Hood's acclaimed parenting book, Real Parenting, for Real Kids is available on

Amazon

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