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QUESTION: Our daughter has just turned six and is doing really well in school. She loves having her friends over to play, but if she goes to visit them she doesn’t want me to leave, clings to me and cries.
If I stay, she is fine, and will go off playing while I am in the kitchen talking to her friend’s mom.
She gets so excited about going on a play date, but as soon as we reach the house, she clings to me. I don’t know what to do. It is really upsetting for her and for me. I am upset on her behalf, but also embarrassed in front of the other parents.
I encourage her, talk to her and for the past year or so, have stayed during her play dates. But should I use “tough love” and leave her or just cancel her going on play dates?
I don’t want to get cross with her, as she is obviously anxious and shy, but I feel sick thinking of the next play date invite – any advice?
ANSWER: It is great that your daughter is so positive about school and her friends. It is great that she wants to play and mix with her peers. Some separation anxiety is understandable and normal, even at age six, and is very often dependent on a child’s temperament. Some children are just slower to warm up in new situations.
It is also a positive statement of how much she values your support and the security you provide for her that she wants you to stay with her.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with her needing you to be present to allow her the freedom to play happily.
What she might pick up is the resentment, embarrassment and upset that you seem to feel about her neediness.
This might add to her sense that there is something fearful or distressing about going to visit other girls.
What is happening to her is developmentally quite normal and so there is nothing for you to be embarrassed about.
If you force the issue about her visits to other children, by refusing or cancelling play dates, it might dent her confidence.
In fact, there is nothing wrong with wanting a parent to be present and in time she will learn that she doesn’t need you to be there.
But for now you need to accept that she relies on you.
So, I think you should accompany her on visits, willingly and warmly, letting her know from the outset that you will be staying for a cuppa.
Then, when she is fully trusting of your presence throughout the play date, you can introduce the concept that you will pop out for 10 minutes to run an errand.
Have the other parent primed to distract and engage the girls to make this brief transition easier for your daughter.
Then ensure you are back in the 10 minutes so that she can be reassured that you stick to your side of the bargain.
Over time, as she learns that you will come back as promised, you can extend the duration of your errands to the point that you will be able to drop her and come back in an hour, two hours or longer.
Your daughter will reach a point where she is happy to stay alone.
Often we need to be guided by our children that they know when they are ready. That way we’ll keep changes to the pace they can tolerate. – Irish Independent