Clinginess of toddlers and preschoolers is a somewhat common problem that can be added to the list of challenging behaviors. Sometimes, it’s even school-age children who are clingy and they just won’t leave the mother alone. It can make her feel suffocated and annoyed and before you know it, she’s snapping at her child and feeling bad about the relationship. It then gets worse because the child can feel her frustration and the child gets equally frustrated, wanting to connect with the mother even more.
What’s Going on in the Brain According to experts such as pediatrician Dr. William Sears, the first 12 months of a baby’s life is the most critical time for the development of the brain. It lays a foundation for how that child will view his or her world as he or she develops and grows. That foundation will also determine what kind of relationships the child will develop as the child matures. Although many authors and psychologists will tell you they do, infants do not require discipline in the first 12 – 18 months, they simply need to be cared for and have their needs met. During this first 12-month period, brain cells, known as neurons, are forming what becomes the “wiring” for the baby to organize and store information. The more the baby’s needs are met swiftly, the more complete his wiring becomes.
Herein Lies the Problem Psychologists tell us about something that occurs in the first year of life called object permanence; if an object a baby is looking at is suddenly hidden from sight, the baby thinks it is permanently gone. Have you ever played peek-a-boo with a baby? When you first hide your face, he appears to be concerned and startled, but when you reveal your face again, he smiles or giggles. The same thing happens with people. If a baby’s mother disappears for hours at a time, the baby believes that she’s permanently gone and the baby may begin to feel anxious and fear that their caregiver and nurturer is really gone. This affects the development of the “wiring” of the baby’s brain and can lead to a greater sense of disconnection as she develops. The result may be her inability to trust, turning her into a clingy child during the toddler and preschool years, and even affecting the quality of trust, empathy, intimacy and a sense of self later in her adult life.
Raising a Connected Child One big step in helping your child to become more connected is to avoid putting her in overwhelming situations where both of you will fail. One example is the grocery or department store, an example of fitting the child into our life rather than adjusting our life for our child. She doesn’t understand having to pay for things that are sitting right there on the shelf and the shopping experience gets worse if she is hungry or over tired. You end up yelling at her because of her uncooperative behavior. This destroys the parent-child relationship, contributing to disconnection in the child. Here are a few other tips for raising a connected child:
• Allow healthy physical and emotional attachment to occur during the first 12 months • Touching, holding, and regular physical contact is critical to the connected child’s growth • Take the time to set up boundaries and limits in advance • Establish structure at home with gates and baby-proofing devices • Change your home/life to fit the toddler, not force the toddler to fit your home/life • Let them be frustrated and work out their own challenges (help at times but don’t rescue)
Children Who Are Connected In his book, The Successful Child (2002, Little Brown & Co), Dr.
William Sears asks us to imagine a group of teens at a party who begin to pair off and start “making out.” One particular “connected” teen whose parents have taught her to respect her feelings by responding to them appropriately over the span of her childhood, suddenly feels pressured into a sexual situation that she’s not ready for and feels confused and scared. Forced to choose between the peer pressure of the moment and trusting her own feelings, she stops the encounter and calls her parents for a ride home. Don’t you hope that your teen will make the same choice on her own? If you answered yes, than ask yourself if you’re doing today what is required to raise a connected child. Here are few other examples of how a connected child behaves.
She… • Is less likely to experience a fear of strangers • Behaves more cooperatively for the parent • Accepts being left off at preschool without a meltdown • Explores more freely and with bravery • Is likely to be open to new objects and experiences • Is more likely to internalize the wisdom, guidance, and modeling of the parents • Has a stronger development of her emotional intelligence • Is able to interpret the emotions of others and can detect the “red flags” • Possesses a stronger sense of what is right and what is wrong • Has the capacity to trust and care about trustworthy adults
Are You a Connected Parent? If you had any uneasy feelings while reading the paragraphs above or are still frustrated over what it takes to raise a connected child, then perhaps you need some reconnection for yourself. To raise a connected child requires creating some internal balance and peacefulness. Accept the fact that life is not winning the “rat race” that we find ourselves in. Life is about finding more peace and calmness inside of us to better enjoy the limited time we have with our children. Consider slowing down our pace a bit and finding time to take better care of yourself through classes and workshops. Your children don’t care how much money you make, they want instead to simply know that you are there and how much you care for them. Caring for others starts with caring for yourself.
NOTE: Hello readers of PG Magazine! As my thank you for reading my article, I will send a signed copy of my book to the first three readers who send me an email with their mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck to you.
Bill Corbett is the author of the award winning book “Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids” in English and in Spanish, and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids. He has three grown children, three step children, two grandchildren, and lives with his wife Elizabeth teenage step daughter Olivia. You can visit his Web site www.CooperativeKids.com for further information and parenting advice.