Clingy preschoolers are not only difficult to leave alone, but may have independence problems that will affect them later in life. This is a symptom of separation anxiety and while it is a normal stage for children, there are ways to encourage independence on their part.
Here are several ways to cope with a clingy preschooler:
- Have lots of patience. Clinginess is a normal phase in a child's development, and inducing him to grow out of it will take lots of time. Be prepared to try again and again with different methods and opportunities to lead him to a more independent attitude. Always display a calm attitude during this time; irritation or concern in your part will only unnerve him more. Always praise him for taking steps towards independence and social behavior, and reward him with a favorite treat for such initiative. Guide him along separation problems he encounters, and make suggestions on how he deals with it.
- Establish a regular routine. Children realize how vulnerable they are without trusted adults, and this is especially true in new environments. By creating a drop-off and pick-up routine, a child can be assured that you will appear again and again at an appointed time.
- Let them get to know their adult supervisor. A child can be wary of strangers, especially if you train him to distrust them. Introduce their teacher or adult companion, and then let them interact for a while. Once they find common ground, it will be easier to leave him with his new adult friend.
- Pick a preschool that fits him. Examine the curriculum, activities, personnel and enrollees and see if they are fun, engaging and educational. Have a sit-down for one day then bring your preschooler and see if the environment is right for him.
- Establish gradual transitions. For the first day of preschool, stay within the area for the entire session. Leave at earlier times for each succeeding session until you've established a drop-off and pick-up schedule. This will allow your preschooler to adapt on his own pace without overwhelming him with sudden changes.
- Distract the child with an activity. Anxiety is a mental state, and psychological activity can be reduced with a distraction. Playing with toys or friends will lift a child's mind from the fear of abandonment, and by the time he realizes his parent is gone, he will too busy having fun or resting afterwards.
- Bring a comfort object. Much like Linus from the Peanuts comics has a security blanket, a child can derive comfort from a familiar object. A favorite toy, accessory or apparel can be a welcome substitute for the parent or home he has temporarily left behind. Make sure to check if he has brought along the object with you, and be prepared to replace it should it be misplaced.
In the end, nothing beats meeting a friend or a group of friends in preschool. Not only will they keep a child company throughout the day, but will actually make him look forward to succeeding days.