Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: How do you handle a clingy “big kid?” Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
For awhile now, my 10-year-old daughter has been extra clingy. Not in a bad way, or even in an annoying way, but I guess it’s more concerning? She doesn’t want to play with her friends, and she’s not really showing as much enthusiasm for the upcoming school year as she usually does. I’ve been chalking this all up to the pandemic, and I’m sure it’s not uncommon behavior for enduring so much. But I’m concerned that she’s really struggling. She’s perfectly content hanging out with me, reading books, watching movies, and only going outside to be alone. She always wants to run errands with me and always asks when I’ll be back if I’m going somewhere with a friend, etc. Shouldn’t she have friends of her own and do things that don’t include her mom? I mean I love spending time with her, but I’m worried.
Frankly, after the past year-and-a-half we’ve all had, I’d be more concerned if you weren’t concerned about your kiddo. Kids are resilient, yes, but that doesn’t mean they escape trauma unscathed. And this pandemic totally disrupted their lives—that’s trauma, even if they’re coping well enough.
Separation anxiety is super common in kids of all ages. Typically it’s a “phase” of clinginess, which really just means they like to stick with the people they love and trust in environments that are familiar and comfortable.
Separation anxiety is usually caused by a significant stressful or traumatic event in a child’s life. This could range from the death of a family member or pet to moving to a new house. You don’t appear to be an overprotective parent, judging by your letter, so I don’t think that’s the root cause here. But consider the pandemic and how much kids have been expected to adapt to: a total change in how they attend school, the knowledge that people are getting sick and dying all over the world, a lack of socialization, etc. The list goes on. That’s A LOT. It’s no wonder she wants to be with you all the time.
It’s also possible that your kiddo is just perfectly content being at home, staying recharged with her nose in a book. If you want to help her anxiety, though, I’d start with practicing separation more. Leave the house without a big hullabaloo, just tell your daughter where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Then leave. And keep leaving, every so often, to do the things you need and want to do sans child.
You can reassure her that you’ll be fine and she’ll be fine. You can keep things consistent/routine when you’re both at home together so she still feels she has a sense of control over her environment. With my own daughter, I started a “goodbye ritual.” We hug and kiss twice, say goodbye, I leave, she waves from the window, I honk the horn, and I go. Having that sense of predictability helps us—maybe it’ll help you too.
If your daughter is going to school in person this year, she may very well slip back into socialization (safely, of course) with her peers. If you give all of these things a go and you’re still concerned, consider therapy. For each of you. If you’re financially able to attend, a therapist can help her develop her own coping skills. I wish you both the best of luck—it seems like you’re both really lucky to have each other.