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How do you deal with a very clingy, very sensitive child during these quarantining times? Can you meet their needs without sacrificing your sanity? Have your own questions? Email advice@
Dear Scary Mommy,
I have a very sweet, very intuitive and emotionally intelligent five-year-old who has become very clingy toward me since the onset of the pandemic. She’s always been very independent, an extrovert, but also very loving and cuddly. Lately, it’s like shes an additional appendage. She cries when I go to the grocery store, she keeps coming out of her room at night after we tuck her in, and she follows me everywhere throughout the house when she’s not busy playing. I also have an 18-month-old son, but he’s not really much of a playmate for her yet. I make sure I’m meeting her emotional needs, but lately I feel like I’m going to snap and I don’t want to get short with her when she clearly needs me so much. We’re keeping her home from pre-K, we’ve been abstaining from playdates, and she’s only been around one or two other kids, outside and distanced, all summer. I’m working from home, too. How do I help her without sacrificing my sanity?
Clinging is your daughter’s stress response. Every child has a unique way of adapting to a shift or change in their normal, everyday routine. She doesn’t have the vocabulary to identify her anxiety or the tools to work through it just yet — so for now, you’re her safe zone. You’re the soothing she needs. A five-year-old who is used to pre-K and friends and structured activities is going to feel the loss of those things, which is why she’s “reverting” a bit.
You’re working from home and parenting two small children all day, so you need your own “safe zone” too or you’ll lose it. One way to combat anxiety in anyone (but particularly children) is to have a predictable routine every day. Now that’s not to say you need to be Pandemic Pinterest Mom and have every minute planned out in a picture-perfect way. But doing the same activities around the same time– reading, playing, coloring, running around outside, going for walks, etc. — will give her a sense of normalcy and control.
When you’re heading out to the store, let her feel her feelings. Try to be patient and let the goodbye take as long as it takes. Separation anxiety for an hour-long trip to the grocery store is definitely emotionally and mentally taxing for both of you, not just her, so take deep breaths and let it play out. When you get back, reward her with some positive affirmations for doing such a good job playing/painting/watching Blue’s Clues while you were gone. Kids will do anything for a parent’s attention — positive reinforcements will help you here.
As for bedtime, just keep a predictable nighttime routine (you probably already are) and every time she gets out of bed, take her hand and kindly-but-firmly march her right back in. Remind her that you’re there, she’s safe, she’s loved, but she “needs rest so we can have a fun day tomorrow!” This one might not be a quick fix, but if you keep it consistent, she’ll eventually realize getting out of bed is actually more of a pain in the ass than it’s worth.
When she’s finally in bed, pour yourself your drink of choice and enjoy a book or a TV show or whatever small joy your pandemic-addled brain can focus on.
Good luck to you. I hope this helps.
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