The beginning of a new school year can often cause a lot of stress for both parents and children. Changes in routine and new environments can cause your typically social and outgoing child to become clingy and anxiety ridden. Changes are scary for most of us, but children especially sometimes don't have the skills to deal with how they're feeling when these changes happen.
Starting a new school or starting school for the first time can be tough on a child and they often deal with their emotions by becoming increasingly clingy with their parents. Any parent who has ever had to pry a crying child off their leg and hand them over to a sympathetic teacher while reassuring their child they really will enjoy school knows how hard the clingy phase can be.
Now that school is back in full swing, many parents may still be experience some of that clinginess with their children and are wondering just how long it's supposed to last. The good news is that while every child is different, typical clinginess really shouldn't last that long at all.
"Clinginess can happen almost overnight and every child is different, but typically, the clinginess phase peaks when your child is a toddler, sometime between 12 and 24 months," Dr. Laura F. Dabney, MD, a psychotherapist, explained to Romper. "They typically 'relapse' around pre-school age, but, fortunately, this will only typically last a few weeks at most."
Dabney also suggested a few ways that parents can help with the clinginess as well. "Make sure goodbyes short and sweet, stay firm, and try to refrain from dragging it out longer than it needs to be," Dabney explained. "You can develop a ritual by each time saying 'I love you' and giving your child two kisses. You can also help by giving an ETA using events instead of time such as, 'I'll pick you up after snack time or after nap.' Do your best not to cave in; more than anything a child needs structure and routines because these make a child feel safe and thus will reduce clinginess. Further, routines can help ease feelings of separation anxiety and help with emotional stability."
Of course parents want to ensure their child's clinginess isn't a result of a deeper level of anxiety. "Our society is expecting more and more from our kids at younger ages," Sucheta Connolly, M.D., a child psychiatrist and director of the Pediatric Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the University of Illinois in Chicago told Parents. "And not all of them can handle it."
Connolly suggests that children with school anxiety tend to have it every day and it's not something that comes and goes. "Usually, kids who have school anxiety will show a range of stress- or anxiety-related symptoms. Young kids, especially preschoolers, frequently talk about their fear of school and may ask for repeated reassurance from parents: "Can you stay at school with me?" "Do I have to go?" Often they'll complain about stomachaches or headaches or become unusually clingy."
Connolly's suggestions on how to deal with anxiety are similar to Dabney's and agrees that the clinginess should only last a few weeks.
"Always have recurrent physical symptoms checked out by a pediatrician to rule out medical problems. But assuming kids are physically healthy, parents need to be firm about not allowing them to miss school. Just as it's our job to work and raise our family, it's part of a child's job to go to school," she said. "It's normal for preschoolers to have some separation anxiety at first, but it should subside after a few weeks."
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