Yesterday, I felt rather helpless.
I had my one year old Daughter feeling very out of sorts from morning til night. She grizzled and raged and wanted nothing more than to be held. Sometimes she didn't want to be held either in a frustrating play of toddler independence versus dependence.
To make it all worse, she refused to breastfeed too which was perceived by me as some kind of really painful statement. Of course it wasn't at all, but crazy child behaviour is a ripe breeding ground for crazy adult thoughts.
This went on all the very long day.
If I tried to resume housework, attend to something on the computer or make any kind movement to do anything whatsoever, there was more outrage in an instant. I just couldn't get it right and I don't think my baby girl had any more of an idea on that front either; she was pitifully clueless as to what it was she wanted too and we were both suffering for it.
And so we struggled on together, facing each woe-filled long minute as it ticked by. Finally by the evening, she calmed down somewhat, perhaps with exhaustion. Eventually she breastfeed, (and fed she did), until she could stay awake no more.
What a relief:
What. A. Day.
On my parenting journey to date, all of my kids have displayed varying degrees of clinginess at some stage in their childhood. It was fairly apparent in all of them as babies and rose and fell again with different individuals at different ages throughout their childhoods. By far the clingiest to date, is my youngest however. She has been a little cling-pot throughout her short 23 months. Celeste is forever by my side, wondering at my next move and watching me cautiously to gauge it.
I have to admit to being one of those Mums who always secretly and longingly looked towards those parents who struggled to separate from their babes at kinder and school drop-offs: You know, the ones whose child throws the mega-tanty while Mum or Dad try to depart with dignity? My kids, though having their natural and predictable, short-lived blocks of clinginess, were always so confident and independent by that stage; they were always the ones who trotted off from me without a second glance.
Though I have definitely felt sorry for the numerous struggling pairs I have witnessed many times at any centre's door over the years, I would be lying if I were to say I didn't feel just the tiniest tinge of envy at them too; a wow, your child really wants to be with you kind of envy.
Maybe I have that child now.
After much thinking on the matter on our day of anguish, I wondered at the source of the heightened behaviour before it occurred to me in a flash of brilliance: My 12 year old Son is away on camp this week. My toddler adores her big Brother and they are unusually close.
The reason was suddenly clear and so, so simple: Celeste was simply missing him and she was probably worried that Mum might suddenly vanish too.
It must be so hard for little people to remain anxiety-free when there is so much happening around them which they do not yet understand. Everyone makes decisions on their behalf: What to eat, when to eat, when to sleep and where to go. Naturally very young children seek the familiar in their daily trails and the comfort of those that protect and nurture: Their parents and usually, Mum in particular.
So how can I build a clingy, anxiety-ridden toddler into a confident child? I am by no means an expert but I have been putting a few tips to the test.
To date, I have been practising simply giving-in to the behaviour. This at first glance sounds like a total parenting cop-out but hear me out because it's a tactic that works for us.
When my baby feels anxious and hangs from my leg, stomps her foot and seems overly terrified, to me that's the cue to stop what I am doing and sit with her. Usually a hug on my lap and a few quiet minutes together is all that it takes to turn the situation from a meltdown into melted-chocolate. My toddler will naturally pull away from me when she feels she has had her lovely needs met. It's a sweet way of taking time out and I have to admit, the break together has benefits for me too as I feel more relaxed for it as well.
For times when you know you are leaving your little one, it's imperative to make your departure known to your anxious child and then keep the actual goodbye moment short and sweet. You should always tell your child that you are going and that you will be back again soon. Sneaking off unannounced can potentially breed distrust in your babe who may respond by increasing the clinginess in future. Once you've said your goodbyes and reassured your child you will return - go fast and do not be tempted return and comfort your child as this can prolong the anxiety and tantrum. Let the caregiver do the soothing in your absence. It's a hard one that one but the experts say, it's the right path to take.
Another important consideration is following a routine. Most people, regardless of age like to know what's coming next in life and toddlers have this desire amplified. By following a routine each day you can help to cement confidence and security into little minds. We have a routine in place daily however I definitely notice the clinginess heightens when there are changes or stress involved, particularly on my part. If I am rushing about, this switches on the clingy reaction in my toddler. I am trying hard to avoid this for both our sakes and it's difficult to say the least.
Allowing your child to play independently and uninterrupted can work wonders for opening their little minds to the possibility of learning the skill of independence. Alone time is imperative for aiding your child to develop their imagination and personal sense of security in themselves. By constantly reminding him or her of your presence, you can make a rod for your back. I can't think of the number of times I have interrupted a child who was playing happily over the years and with bad consequences! I have finally learned to 'let sleeping dogs lie' as the saying goes.
Finally, giving your toddler lots of together time can give them further confidence and emotional security. Much of my weekday routine is spent ferrying kids from point A to point B and my little one is shuffled about without much one on one as a result. Together time needn't be a hindrance to your day either. Think of ways to get bubba involved in your chores so that he or she will feel important and special.
Just today, Celeste was unhappy about me hanging the washing and wanted me to carry her while I did so. Not possible! I plopped my tub of pegs in front of her and she proceeded to cheer up and hand out my pegs as they were required. Happy! Happy!
In baby steps we'll get there I am sure but for now, I am treasuring these special Motherhood moments, even when they are so trying. It won't last forever and all too soon I know I will miss these special times in my Daughter's young life.
Have you experienced an overly anxious or clingy child? How did you / do you cope?
Do you have any brilliant tactics you can share?