Mom as playmate is wearing thin

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 20, 2011 06:00 AM

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HI Ms. Meltz,

I have a 6 year old daughter. VERY independent & strong willed, smart. My problem is that she has lost her ability to play by herself, entertain herself. Everyday now from the minute she wakes till she goes to sleep it is "what are we going to do" play with me, after I have just played several games etc etc. She is in kindergarten from 9am to 3pm and then it is her and I as my husband has begun a new job and basically works all the time. We did relocate about 7 months ago to a new state, and it was a huge transition and change for all, but a lot for my daughter, it has taken a good 5+ months to help her with the transition, lots of acting out etc. Not sure if this is still having issue on her. Making new friends and contacts for both her and I has been slow going, so not a lot of playdates, but I do try to teach her how to entertain herself, that I can;t always be her playmate. It is getting very difficult and leads to daily whining, screaming, temper tantrums. I have run out patience and ways to deal with this. I would appreciate ANY advice to help me!!
Gratefully,

From: Cathy, Auburn, NH

Hi Cathy,

It sounds like it took her about five months to readjust, she had a period of calm, and now she's starting acting clingy again. My suspicion is that something has triggered a new round of insecurity for her. Has there been some kind of change at school -- a teacher who has been out sick or left? Or a favorite playmate? Is there some trauma in your extended family that she's aware of? You said your husband is working all the time. Is she missing him? Are you feeling more stress because of this? She could be picking up on any number of these subtle emotions of yours. She could even be worried that, like daddy, you are going to not be around, so she's doing whatever she can to keep you in her sight.

You say this happens all day long. But I wonder, is it a bigger problem when you and your daughter reunite at the end of the work/school day? Do you rush into the kitchen to get dinner started? Or in the morning, are you in a hurry to get dressed to get the two of you out of the house? Whenever we are stressed and racing the clock, that typically translates to stress for children. What helps them is for us to fully be present for them, for a short chunk of time.

For instance, at the end of the day, build in some Buffer Time: before you change your clothes or start dinner, walk in the door and tell her, "Wow! We need some time just to be together! What should we do to celebrate being together again?" Rather than fighting her need for your attention, you're acknowledging. After an appropriate period of time, ask her to come into the kitchen with you; offer her a way to help you. If you she balks that you have to stop playing, help her to feel in control: "It's my time to make dinner. You can decide: Do you want to help me, or do you want to play by yourself?" (Yes, I know this can be exhausting too, to have her "helping," but it's a way for her to still be with you.)

If this isn't when she's most demanding of your attention, see if there is a pattern to when it typically happens and apply the strategy: Give her what she needs -- to know that you are available to her -- set a limit on it, and give her some control over it. ("I'm going to get dressed now; do you want to help me choose what I wear, or do you want to stay here?") As frustrating as , this is likely a phase that will pass (weeks or months, not days) but it will pass more quickly if she gets what she needs from you. Meanwhile, I would also ask her teachers if they are seeing any of this clingy behavior.

Oh -- and about that whining. Read this.

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3 comments so far...
  1. When my husband started a new work schedule that keeps him out of the house until about our daughter's bedtime, our normally happy toddler, a child who is fully capable of "self-entertainment" began really acting out - and acting clingy in a similar way.

    It took me a while to figure it out, but once I did, instead of just rushing in the door each night with her, I included her in the dinner-making routine. This acted as the one-to-one time she was craving with me (because I think Barbara's spot on here in her assessment of your case) - and after a couple of months, she got right back into the old swing of things. Now, she doesn't always WANT to help - she's enjoying her own downtime from a day at play skool too, but she knows I'm here.

    Posted by Phe April 21, 11 03:30 PM
  1. don't be afraid to use the TV as a babysitter to get yourself some alone time for cooking/cleaning/reading the paper/whatever. Be sure to balance this with time that you pay attention to your daughter. Time where you look her in the eye and talk to her like a normal human being, not like a baby. Maybe you'll need to START with the paying attention part so you can buy yourself the time where she'll behave and watch the TV. I know it's heresy to suggest TV time for a little kid but just admit it, we all do it! (ok, almost all of us). Gotta stay sane!

    Posted by bob April 22, 11 08:26 AM
  1. Great reason to have many kids.

    Posted by Michael May 10, 11 04:03 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. When my husband started a new work schedule that keeps him out of the house until about our daughter's bedtime, our normally happy toddler, a child who is fully capable of "self-entertainment" began really acting out - and acting clingy in a similar way.

    It took me a while to figure it out, but once I did, instead of just rushing in the door each night with her, I included her in the dinner-making routine. This acted as the one-to-one time she was craving with me (because I think Barbara's spot on here in her assessment of your case) - and after a couple of months, she got right back into the old swing of things. Now, she doesn't always WANT to help - she's enjoying her own downtime from a day at play skool too, but she knows I'm here.

    Posted by Phe April 21, 11 03:30 PM
  1. don't be afraid to use the TV as a babysitter to get yourself some alone time for cooking/cleaning/reading the paper/whatever. Be sure to balance this with time that you pay attention to your daughter. Time where you look her in the eye and talk to her like a normal human being, not like a baby. Maybe you'll need to START with the paying attention part so you can buy yourself the time where she'll behave and watch the TV. I know it's heresy to suggest TV time for a little kid but just admit it, we all do it! (ok, almost all of us). Gotta stay sane!

    Posted by bob April 22, 11 08:26 AM
  1. Great reason to have many kids.

    Posted by Michael May 10, 11 04:03 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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