How can I encourage independence in my clingy kiddo?

How can I encourage independence? episode #16

Question – “My daughter constantly follows me around the house always wanting my attention. I give her A LOT of attention! I’m a stay-home Mom and we are together all the time. She even follows me into the bathroom. I’ve tried “filling up her tank” just to see if she ever gets enough but I found the answer is NO. When my husband gets home and I try to leave for the gym, she clings and whimpers, begging me not to go. In fact, she does this any time I try to leave her with anyone. Sometimes the guilt and hassle isn’t worth it, and I cave in and stay home. Sometimes I feel imprisoned by a cute and loving jail warden. How can I teach my daughter to be more independent?” – Allison

Parent Educator answer –

I love how this question is worded. This shows such keen awareness that the situation is a pattern of her DAUGHTER’S. When kids behave this way, it can really lock moms in without them even realizing it, so I’m glad Allison is aware and wanting to change. I don’t hear mom beating herself up thinking she should do more, be better, etc. I love that she experimented with “filling up her daughter’s tank” and can feel confident that not having enough mom time is not the issue. My favorite part is her final question, “How can I TEACH my daughter to be more independent?”

Teaching is a process. It takes time, patience, and clear explanations and repetition. You teach your children how to treat you. This doesn’t mean they are going to do it perfectly right away, just that you are committed to doing your part as teacher.

When we see clingy behavior in children, it’s a sign of anxiety. It’s great that your child feels comforted by you, it’s also important that your child feel comfortable away from you. Anxiety can be caused by many things: modern society, a genetic predisposition, even a stressful birth; so we’re not going to waste our time arguing that your child shouldn’t feel anxious.

3 things NOT to do are…

  1. Don’t sneak out without telling them. 
  2. Don’t have long goodbyes or wait for your child to give you permission to leave.
  3. Don’t avoid anxiety provoking activities.

4 ways to increase your child’s comfort and stability, which will increase their independence and (eventually) decrease their clinginess.

  1. Predictable Routine – All kids benefit from structured routine but, anxious kids especially can  benefit. They might even ask every morning, “What are the plans for the day?” Have a chart with pictures so they can predict “cuddle and read with mom time” “play independently time” “screen time”. You can also have routines for each day, Monday is library. Tuesday is gym. Wednesday is playgroup.
  2. Encourage deep relationships with other adults and children. Invite your child’s friend over after school every Friday. Go to the park with Dad Sunday morning or play games with Grandma Sunday night.
  3. Transitional objects – If your child doesn’t have a transitional object, give them one. Tell them it will make them feel safe. A beautiful stone to slip into his pocket or a soft feather. Whenever he feels anxious, they hold onto the object. When he is clinging to you at the door, remind him of this special object and its’ special powers.
  4. Reduce narrow focused attention – When we are nervous, our eyes lock into an object like a lion stalking it’s prey. School and screen time encourage narrow focus attention. A lion spends 95% of its day in diffused attention, this is important for humans, too. Diffused attention is a recuperative state that helps our brains calm down and feel at peace. Staring into space and daydreaming shift the brain into diffused attention. Try hard not to interrupt your child when in this state. You can encourage this diffused mental attention with music, art, and nature based movements. Experiment with turning off electricity, watering the garden, and classical music and see what calms your child the most.

Life Coaching answer – When your child is clinging and pleading for you to stay home, it is SO HARD to leave!  They pull out all the stops, filling us up with love, making us feel wanted and needed. Instead of reciprocating with love and devotion, we break their hearts, causing them suffering, tears, and misery!

Many moms fall into this trap because they think, “I am the only one that can help them feel better.” This belief keeps kids locked in anxiety, believing they are only safe when mom is around. Mom feels so needed and valuable that she forgoes her dreams and passions, trapping her in a limited existence.

The best thing Allison can do is to manage her own anxiety and set up a regular, predictable routine around leaving her daughter. The thoughts that will keep her stuck are “She needs me” “I can make her feel better” and “It’s not right to let her suffer”

We have this idea that our kids shouldn’t suffer- that they should always be happy and if they aren’t we are doing something wrong.

This is our primitive brain talking. Our higher brain knows that sometimes we need to make parenting decisions that our children aren’t going to like- that we can forgo that temporary ‘false joy’ for long term well being.

Of course we want to avoid negative emotions unnecessarily, but being willing to choose discomfort for long term well being is a really important life skill.

We endure discomfort for a high intensity exercise class for the long term gain of fitness.

We endure boring subjects in school so that we can pursue a major that interests us.

We tolerate uncomfortable dental appointments for the long term benefit of healthy teeth and gums.

The buddhists say life is suffering. So, trying to keep your child from suffering is trying to protect them from life. Believing you can protect your kids from emotional discomfort is believing you are more powerful than God.

Kryptonite – “I’m tired”

This is a sneaky one. Thinking the thought or saying the sentence “I’m tired” seems like you are just stating the facts. But try it out for a minute, how do you feel when you think the thought “I’m tired”? TIRED!! When you feel tired, you act lethargic, and don’t seek out energy inducing activities! It’s not like you rest, take a nap and the feel energized. It seems so legit that we don’t even argue it.

Energy is something we create more of, through exercise, rest, sleep, food, etc. Many Supermoms use the thought “I’m tired” as a way to avoid doing hard things and taking action towards their goals.

Supermom Power Boost schedule a vent session

Sometimes all you need is a good vent session. It’s tempting to turn to our husbands at the end of the day to complain about everything that went awry. Most men are wired to fix problems so when unload our challenging day onto them, they try to tell us what to do. This is not what we want to hear! We just want them to say, “Oh honey, I don’t know how you do it all day, that sounds really rough.” Instead they say, “Did you try putting her in time out?” “Just tell your boss no.” or “You shouldn’t let her get to you like that.” This makes us aggravated and frustrated because all we need is a little compassion.

To get a power boost, try scheduling a “vent session” with a girlfriend. Most women naturally commiserate. We vent, we get our frustrations off our chest. They tell us about their challenges, we feel better. Venting with other moms gives you just the fuel you need to make it through another day. We don’t want to be told what to do to fix our problems, we just want to feel seen, heard, and supported. You can try telling your husband, “I just want you to listen and not fix.” but girlfriends are the best power boost I know of.

Quote of the day – 

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh