Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We all have Clingons from Time to Time

Recently, a friend of mine asked a question about her 18 month-old and the issue of "clinging". You know what I mean -- when you bring your brood to that family gathering and there is one child who must be surgically detached from your leg. Or when your name is called desperately throughout the house because you dared to go down to the laundry room and switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer.

"Whew! Mom! I didn't know where you WERE!"

Yes. It happens to all of us.

While I can't claim to have an instant solution to a case of the Clingons, I can make a few suggestions:

1) Play games about absence. Believe it or not, games like Peek-a-Boo and indoor Hide-And-Seek really do teach young children to cope with being alone, even for short periods of time. The more your child can "play" with the issue of their independence, the easier it will be for them to handle your everyday need for space.

2) Start with short absences. By telling your child where you are going -- even in the house -- and when you will be back, you are teaching them to trust that you mean what you say and that you will, in fact, come back. A very young child does need to know that your disappearance into the kitchen to make dinner will not be permanent abandonment. At the same time, parents should understand that children may not like it when you are not there. (That comes much later, believe me!) If you are gentle, reassuring, and consistent in informing them about what to expect, you will help them prepare for longer absences like doctor's appointments, lunch with a friend, or (dare-I-say-it) a date with Daddy.

3) Build trust in other people. Sometimes, there can be an enormous emotional payoff in being your child's "one-and-only". Comforting a crying child by taking him or her from Daddy or Auntie or Grandma is not always the best option. This is especially true when a young child shows a preference for one parent over the other. It can be very easy for "the favorite" to play the role of comforter. But it may be better to stand aside and let your child build a stronger bond with others. Saying, "You're fine. Daddy's going to give you your bath today." or "I'm right here, but Grandma's going to read a story. Let's listen together," is a great way to reassure your child.

When you show your trust in others' ability to care for your child, you set a powerful example for your baby about trust itself. When you practice "sharing" your child with other caring adults, you give him or her a zone of comfort and let them know they have more than one person to rely on. That lesson will stay with them as they grow older and enter a day care or school situation.

4.) Approach big occasions with sensitivity. Of course, meeting 50 people at a family reunion is intimidating. That's why even some adults shy away from those gatherings! We have made a practice of going to big events with friends or cousins that our children really know. Approaching a crowd with friends alongside helps to make meetings easier. We also plan to arrive early, so that new people are introduced one at a time. And we stay only as long as our schedule allows -- not until our children are out of their minds with tiredness.

The more practice your child gets at handling your absence or meeting new people, the more confident he or she can become at her own independence. I have one child, in particular, who went through a prolonged shy phase, right when entering preschool. It helped to introduce one friend at a time each day we were at school. When my child focused on only one new friend every day or two, we soon found that there was a whole class full of friends to enjoy.

- Midwest Mom


  1. I do so love reading your blog and the little suggestions and insights into parenting. You really do that sort of thing well. Have you ever thought about writing for a parenting magazine? I think you would be rather successful with it. : )

  2. Thanks, deejay.

    That's a lovely compliment. :)

    Have a great week! -MM

  3. Nice pointers !

    I always make the mistake of handing back a crying child back to the mother.
    I should remember why not to the next time !

    Xcept if I get pooed on or something. Then I know the kid doesn't want me ;-)


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