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Clutching the paper birthday invitation in your hand, you and your child arrive at the door of the indoor playground. You can see your neighbour in a sparkly party hat waving at you and beckoning you inside. As the door opens, you are hit with a wave of sound. You hear shrieks, rumbles, beeps, murmurs and laughter. Children are sprinting from the bottom of the slide and leaping into a ball pit. Some little monster is turning the ball pit into a launch base and hurling colourful projectiles at parents and children alike Your eye is drawn to an enormous blue plush gorilla hanging off a lime green slide. There’s a salty smell in the air, and you glance at the pile of grubby shoes next to the entrance. You recognize a few people, but the room is full of strangers. You realize you have stopped breathing for a moment, and sigh.

When you think about it, it’s a miracle that any child would willingly walk into this environment!

If your child struggles with anxiety or sensory processing, this kind of chaos is overwhelming. In fact, many different situations can trigger anxiety, leading to resistance, meltdowns, tears, begging, hiding, or just clinging to the ground for dear life. Sometimes everyday situations can seem to trigger a shutdown, and you may be exhausted from constantly hovering or supporting.

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What can you do to help your child gain the confidence they need?

If you’ve tried the “throw ‘em in the deep end and see if they swim” approach and it didn’t work, here’s a gentler way to build confidence and help your child overcome anxiety when life gets challenging.

The birthday party scenario is just too much all at once. It’s a new place. The noise is overwhelming. It’s full of new people. It means being apart from mom and dad. Any one of those challenges could be something your child could handle if they were presented one at a time, but when they happen all it once, it’s just paralyzing.

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Over the next six weeks, I’ll share six different problems that parents face when helping their child to become more confident and independent, with examples of different ways you can help your children grow and progress.

Today’s topic: my child sticks to me like glue!

For children who are most comfortable staying very close to their parents, it takes time and experience to get comfortable moving further away.

Exploring from home base: According to John Bowlby’s attachment theory, children use their parents as a “safe base” from which to explore. When you are with your child, feel free to lavish them with hugs, squeezes and snuggles. This kind of closeness can actually help your child to explore freely.

Of course, if your child is shy about finding opportunities to explore their independence, you can encourage them, one little step at a time. As you give your child these learning opportunities, make sure that your child has the chance to feel safe and secure before and after.

  • The Boomerang Technique: give your child a little taste of distance and the promise of a quick return
    • Can you please go get Mommy’s slippers and bring them back here?
    • What’s that toy in the sandbox! Want to jump in and bring it back here?
    • Want to see how fast you can run from the tree and back?
  • The Elastic Technique: slowly stretch the distance
    • Here, you sit on this side of the table. I’ll get my tea and sit over here.
    • I’m going to get up and stretch! Want to join me! Ok, I’ll set up the mats. This one is yours!
    • Got your life jacket! Excellent, I’ll sit here and watch you!

Each of these strategies should be practiced over and over, in new ways, and in new situations. This is how confidence and independence grows. Like a tree.

One twig and leaf at a time.

See part 2: