It's almost inevitable for your child to turn into a leech at some point. You know, when they suddenly become unable to do anything without you by their side? Whether it's picking out pajamas, brushing their teeth, making breakfast, or making new friends, most children go through a clingy phase. Learning how to help a clingy child feel more independent and safe on their own can not only help your child in the long run, but it can help you, too.
Though according to University of Minnesota attachment researcher Alan Soufre, most psychologists agree that it's normal for children to go through a clingy phase. But it's also important for parents to encourage children to gain their own independence while they're young and learning important life skills, so that they can learn to do things on their own for later on in life. According to psychologist Jeanne Williams, many parents have short-term parenting vision. Meaning that they worry about what needs to be done right now, rather than thinking about the long-term effects of their daily choices. This can be a hindrance to helping children think and act more independently. Although it may be easier for you to hold your child's hand through an activity in order to get the job done immediately, holding their hand for too long can cause problems later on in life.
In order to prevent your kid's clingy nature from turning into full on codependency, you'll need to start practicing a few things when it comes to parenting. Though it's a process that fluctuates from day to day, the payoff you'll receive in raising confident, capable children will be worth it in the end.
1. Recognize That You May Be Part Of The Problem
According to Dr. Steven Richfield, child psychologist and author of The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society, you may be exacerbating your child's clingy nature. It's natural to want to comfort your child when they're upset, struggling, or feeling emotional. But Richfield told Healthy Place that continued reinforcement on a parent's part can rob your child of important opportunities for growth and emotional independence. Though every parent wants to feel needed by their child, you need to draw the line somewhere, to let your child flourish on their own. "Consider whether your child's dependency may be unconsciously service some needs of your own," Richfield said.
2. Give Them The Tools To Succeed
Half of the battle to independence is providing your children with the tools they need to succeed. Rather than leaving them to the wolves, prepare your child for independence by guiding them toward it. Psychologist Jeanne Williams told Today's Parent that there are several ways you can help your child to become more independent. From using positive terms when you encourage independence (steer away from referring to your growing child as a baby in any way, shape, or form), to identifying opportunities for independence for the both of you, to taking independence one thing at a time, by preparing yourself and your child before jumping in feet first, you'll be preparing both of you for success.
3. Don't Assume They Enjoy It
One mistake many parents make is assuming that their child enjoys the level of dependency they have on their parents. According to Richfield, not all children like being clingy, they just don't know how to be independent on their own. "Dependency is just as enslaving for the child," Richfield said. He encouraged asking your child how they feel about other children their age, and how they manage their lives differently. Your child may feel trapped by their clingy behavior, but feel that they don't have the tools to escape it. Encouraging independence rather than reprimanding clingy behavior is always the safest route when trying to help your child feel safe on their own.
4. Consider The Circumstances
Not every day will be a victory or celebration of independence, so you shouldn't expect it them to be. Just like you and your own levels of independence and feeling safe, your child's feelings will fluctuate. Some days are easier than others, so don't be discouraged if you find yourself making headway with your child, only to see them regress back to their old patterns. "Don't rush in to solve minor issues when they crop up," Williams told Today's Parent. Williams suggested encouraging your child's problem-solving skills by asking them to come up with solutions on their own first, and then offering your help if they need it — but only after they've had time to think about things on their own.
5. Show That You Believe In Their Independence
Like most situations, when your child has a success, rewarding them will help enforce that success. But according to Parents, you'll want to consider your compliments before you give them out too regularly. If you continually shower your child in repetitive comments, they'll sense that you're being disingenuous. Parents recommended offering specific feedback to your child so that they know you believe in them, and their independence. The more honest encouragement they receive from you, the more pride they'll find in their independence in the long run.