Situation: My child is afraid to leave my side to try new things or play with other children. How do I help him become more independent?
Think about it: It's a big world out there. Some kids jump right in, and some need to test the water with their toes before they're comfortable wading in. (And then they wade very slowly, of course!) Be patient. With some gentle guidance your child will leave your side. (I mean, honestly, have you ever seen a ten-year-old super-glued to his mother's side? Me neither.)
Don't push: Don't force your child to jump into situations he's nervous about. Allow him to watch from the sidelines for a while to absorb the goings-on and get a feel for how he'll fit into the picture. Let him know he can sit and watch for as long as he wants to before joining in. Many children relax when they know they have permission to take their time getting involved.
Small steps: Provide opportunities for your child to take small steps towards independence. For example, take your child to a familiar park and once he's involved in an activity move a short distance away, sit on a bench, and read a book. Every once in a while, touch base with him by waving or making a comment, "Wow! You're sure going high."
Don't make it worse: Don't overprotect your child. Saying things like, "Don't worry, I'll be right here if you need me" imply that your child really does have something to worry about. Instead, make your comments positive in nature and get the message across that what he's about to do is no big deal. For example, when he's leaving your side to attend a birthday party, let him leave on a positive note, "Have fun honey! See ya' in a little while."
Help him understand himself: Acknowledge his feelings, and help him understand them. Then reassure him and help him deal with the feelings and learn to get by them. "I can see you're a bit nervous about joining the party. That's okay. Take your time and let's see who you know. There's David! Why don't you go over and show him your new watch?"
Take away the mystery: Talk about the event in advance. Let your child know what to expect, how long he'll be there, what he'll do, and when you'll be back to pick him up. Information like this will help your child feel more comfortable about your separation.
Give your child choices. "You've been invited to sleep over at Brandon's house Friday. He's really excited. He said you'd go roller-skating and then make homemade pizza. Do you think you'd enjoy that?" Ask your child helpful questions to see why he doesn't want to go. Perhaps there's something specific that would help him be more comfortable, maybe knowing that he can call you to pick him up if he changes his mind. Your child may not be comfortable and choose not to go. That's okay. There will be many opportunities for your child to spend time with a friend. Some more tentative children will pass on an invitation and be comfortable with their decision. Typically, given enough time, the child will outgrow this separation anxiety.
Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999