Q&A: Clingy Kids

Each week Michele Borba answers your parenting questions right here on her blog. If you have a parenting problem or question leave a comment on this post and you may have yours answered next week!

I am writing to you for parental advice. I feel that I don't know what else to do. I have a four-year-old son who is very clingy. I love my son very much. I just feel that I am at the end of my rope. I will go shower and he will lay on the floor outside of the shower until I'm done. If I'm out of his site he will scream and cry until he sees me. I tell him to go with his dad or his 12-year-old sister to do fun activities and he refuses or will keep coming to check on me. I've been patient and understanding but I feel like I am losing my mind. He has also become very disrespectful to myself, husband and sister. It has escalated to him hitting me. I try to give him love and attention but it doesn't seem to be enough. Ignoring my duties and at times my husband, daughter and myself. Please help!!! What do I do? -Leslie

I understand why you're at the end of your ropes, and I read very clearly how much you love your son. So let's get started with a new plan. Since what you've been doing so far (and you've been on this quite a while) doesn't work: Throw it out. Time for a new response.


STEP 1: Identify "Clingy" Triggers.

 I'm not there to observe your child, so you need to be the detective here. Has your child always been clingy, or is this a new behavior? If this is brand new then dig deeper. What is triggering it? You're describing very anxious-type behaviors. Four-year-olds are afraid of yelling, spanking and stress. They also fear losing a parent. Any of those issues or possibilities? Think outside the house as well. A day care center, teacher or another child? If there is anything else that is triggering this behavior, rectify it ASAP. (Move him out of that day care. Have serious talks with the other family member. Watch your own talking about a stressful situation (a financial crisis, worry about someone's health, marriage etc.)  Could be anything. But I don't want to rule this out.


STEP 2: Use Baby Steps.

Your best way to change a behavior is PRAISE. Really! But you use it ANYTIME your child uses absolutely ANY teeny tiny show of independence.  Say, "that's mommy's boy. I knew you could do it," but give him something to do--active stuff--so he doesn't just sit and wait. A bag of goodies that will occupy him. Your goal is to gradually stretch him farther and farther from you.


STEP 3: Practice the new desired behavior.

Find all the times during the day for him to be seconds, feet, minutes away from you. Let's practice! You're teaching a new habit and it's going to take a while. So keep it easy and simple. Be realistic, but practice "Being Mommy's Big Boy." Little stretches. Then praise, praise, praise!


STEP 4: Don't Beg, plead or nag.

Be matter of fact during all of this and stay calm. Your behavior impacts his behavior. Better not to say anything about it. Just say, "Mommy is going to take a shower" and then do it.


STEP 5: Reward the new behavior.

Set up a bag of tricks (Dollar store stuff, trinkets in a bag that he can't see into) or a sticker chart that he earns stickers for something he really wants.  At the beginning, for those moments he's on board he gets to pull out a trinket. You must be consistent with this. Make those showers deliberately a little shorter. Your goal is to get him to start doing a new behavior.


STEP 6: Use time out.

You're saying he's also hitting and disrespectful. Don't tolerate that behavior.  Every time he is disrespectful he must do time out. You do not nag. Just label the wrong behavior by saying, "that's hitting. That's time out. Start walking to the chair please." At this point the chair should be near you. Give him two times to do the time out. At the end of the second time if he doesn't obey then remove a privilege. "No TV for the afternoon." Be matter of fact and don't let him get away with it.

If you do the plan right, you should see a gradual decline in the behavior. Everyone else has to be on the same page with you. You must praise the new behavior you want, give him times to practice when he feels safe, be consistent and change your current response. Be much more matter of fact and calm.

It's all about teaching a new habit and stopping the bad behavior.

Click here to read more of Michele Borba's Q&As, or leave a comment below with your own questions and it may be answered next week.


12Secrets_Borba.jpgDr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know .

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