Having a strong bond with your child is a wonderful thing, but what happens when your child is so attached that they just can’t be comfortable being away from you?
Sometimes it’s obvious that a child has some separation anxiety. Other times, a parent can be so close to the situation that they don’t see it objectively and may not recognize what others, such as grandparents or teachers feel is a problem. If you aren’t sure yourself, talk with other parents, your pediatrician or school counselor and trusted friends. Ask what they see and if they feel it is beyond a typical situation. Bear in mind that children are all different and there is a range to consider, but if your child’s attachment to you is consistently interfering with normal day to day life for either or both of you, it could be time to work on the issue.
Extreme attachment can be more serious, especially if there has been a history of trauma to the child – abuse, neglect, or abandonment are some triggers for many children. In those cases, professional help should be considered. In less extreme situations, a process of gradual weaning may be all it takes. Some key steps to try include:
- Examine who is fueling the attachment- the child? The parent? Both? As parents it feels good to know our child needs us and it can be hard to step back and watch our child become more independent.
- Take small steps. For example, if you have a preschooler, you may try a parent/child playgroup together first and then move on to a morning preschool program your child attends alone a few mornings a week.
- Praise successes but don’t overdo it. Too much focus on the behavior can sometimes feed into it being a “bigger deal” to the child. Stay calm and matter of fact. (“You had fun at preschool today. You got to play with lots of friends and you remembered that I always come back for you.”)
- Help create bonds for your child with other people like peers, teachers, babysitters etc. When they expand their circle of people they feel safe around they will be better able to handle time away from you.
- Avoid long drawn out goodbyes when you do separate. Keep a simple routine and follow it every time. Keep your own emotions under control when you are leaving – a smile on your face and a few words of encouragement are better than letting your child see that you are also upset.
This can be a hard stage for families but if you follow through consistently the day should come soon when your child can let go and jump right in to their own activities without any drama. Keep smiling and know that you are helping your child to grow.