Monday, April 12, 2010

Very Attached Little Girl?

The Question:

Hi Jane,
I'm just loving this blog! I've really appreciated your posts explaining your more loving approach to discipline. I have tried to keep these principles in mind lately when parenting my two kids (aged four and two). However, there are some situations with my four-year-old daughter that I'm not sure how to handle.
My daughter--while very independent and well behaved when attending preschool, primary, or dance class--always acts very clingy to me at home. I cannot leave the home at all without her crying for me and begging for me not to go. These are all situations where I would be leaving her home in the care of my husband. My husband is really a great, gentle, patient, fun father. Once I can finally tear my daughter from off my leg and leave the house, she is totally content and happy the duration of my absence.
Bedtime is the only other instance where she exhibits this same behavior. We have quite an involved, well-entrenched bedtime routine: bath, pajamas, four books, teeth, prayer, song, story in bed, one-on-one talking, and finally a stretched-out painful goodnight! I generally like the routine and am glad that we spend this time together each evening; however, with only two kids (we want to have more) this routine can take a couple of hours every night. My daughter is tired at this time of night (Mommy is too), and she insists that only I do every aspect of the routine. Normally this is fine, but at times I need Daddy to step in to brush teeth or read stories. If my husband has to do anything she cries and is very emotional. Once a week I have a Young Women's meeting that requires me to leave in the middle of bedtime--and it can be quite emotionally draining on me. However, once again, once I am out the door she snaps out of it and is perfectly happy for my husband. The only obstacle is literally peeling her off my leg so I can leave! Also, each night after laying with her, talking, singing, telling a story, and praying with her (sometimes spending up to 30 minutes with her in bed) she still cries when it is time for me to leave. Interestingly, when my husband does put her down to bed she happily kisses him goodnight and doesn't put up any fight.
I know it is normal for a child to still be fairly attached to her mother at this age (again she doesn't do this type of thing when I drop her off at preschool, primary, babysitters, or dance). I know she has fun with her Dad and enjoys spending time with him. It is just that he is more efficient at bedtime and gets the routine done quicker, where I will linger on things and it is easier for my daughter to stall going to bed when I'm in charge at night. My husband and I kind of think that she is using crying (emotions) on me, because she knows I am generally more receptive to her emotions. Basically these tactics work on momma not on daddy, so she doesn't really try them on him. Anyway, these situations can be tiring at night, and I'm not sure how to be firm but still loving when I feel that she is being a bit manipulative (such a strong word to use when describing a four-year-old's behavior, but it is the most fitting description I could think of).
Thank you so much! I look forward to your reply.


The Answer:

Dear Caitlin,
It's taken me a while to answer this question--so long that it might not even be a problem for you any more!  Usually, this kind of problem is pretty short-lived if you downplay it.  Just peel her arms off gently and say, I'll be back soon, then leave without delay.  If you reduce the drama, it often loses it's effect. 
Another thing that I often did with children of that age, was practice.  Some time when you aren't leaving but you're feeling especially close, talk about the problem together.  "Remember how sometimes when I leave, you cry and won't let me go?...Why is that?"  If she can articulate her feelings at a time when emotions are not high, she might feel more understood.  Then practice with her.   Take turns being the mommy who is leaving.  Show her how to give you a kiss and say, "Bye Mommy!  See you soon!"  Once she gets it, do it again and again, praising her.  Tell her that the next time you leave, if she can do it right, you have a treat for her.  Carry some little treats in your purse for a while.
The night time routine does seem a bit manipulative.  Children hate to go to bed.  That parting is so painful for them and they try to draw it out as long as they possibly can.  She prefers you because you're willing to spend this extra time.  My suggestion is that you follow your husband's lead and shorten up the routine.  Just move cheerfully from one chore to the next despite her protests--'just two books each night" and when you lay by her, only stay for two or three minutes.  You have seen that no matter what you do, she cries for more.  So just be kind but consistent--but be on the same page with your husband.  In our home, my husband was the story-teller at bedtime and oversaw most of the bedtime routine if he was home.  It gave him time with the children and I usually had a baby to care for.  Maybe you can let your husband take that over if he's willing. 
It's a problem that will blow over before long on it's own, but hopefully, these suggestions will help that along.  Good luck.


  1. Thank you! We've found something that helps at night time. We've started setting a timer for 10 minutes each night. I tell my daughter that this is our special time together each night--just she and I. In this time we say prayers, tell a story, sing a song, or just talk--whatever she wants to do. But, once the timer beeps, it is time for goodnights. This seems to be helping.

  2. Thank you for your answer. I'm having the same/or similar problem with my 2 year old, only at bed and nap times and I have no idea what to do with him. He was always very easy until he potty-trained himself, now he is extremely intense and overwhelming for me. Hopefully using some of your ideas will help, if not you may be getting a question from me soon :)


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