Children Have Two Buckets: Love and Power
I often help families work with their children as they learn to navigate asserting their control and separation anxiety. These are two frustrating and hard developmental stages that can be hard on the parents too!
I always explain that children have "two buckets: love and power."
Both of these buckets need to be filled up multiple times a day. We need to make sure we provide love throughout the day, and allow for them to have power over their lives many times a day.
Here are some helpful ways to manage your child's need to both have independence but also not want to leave your side
Give choices whenever possible. Let them choose their own clothes, shoes, where to get dressed, where to have their diaper changed, which bowl to have for cereal, where to read a book at bedtime, etc. Choices help a child feel independent and powerful while also ensuring that you are comfortable with whatever they choose for comfort or safety. Sometimes you might have to let your control go and let them choose whatever they want to wear. Clothes are a big source of pride and control for children and ultimately they don't hurt anyone by choosing to wear clothes that you don't think match or look good together. It's an easy way to let children express themselves and who they are, and as adults we like to choose our own clothes so why not allow children the same freedom? You can also offer options, like “which shirt would you like, the red one or the blue one?” This will allow them to feel like they are in control, but you are offering two choices you are okay with them choosing.
Make time to connect 1:1 with each child every day. Even 10-15 minutes of time together without a distraction or phone- just your attention and presence. Children know when we are not fully present and are distracted, so use this time to practice really being with your child, talking, laughing, playing, whatever you feel comfortable with but ultimately just connecting.
Bedtime is an especially good time to have 1:1 time together because it is a natural transition that happens every day and requires your attention. It's also a great segway to shift from the busyness of the day to the calming, peaceful night.
Include your child at mealtimes and conversations. Ask questions, even if they aren't yet verbal. Give them your attention and make it clear to them that you care what they are saying. Allow them to choose what to eat- you choose what to serve, they choose what and how much of that to eat. Don't make food a control issue- let them lead by eating what they want and how they want. When possible let your children feed themselves even from a very young age. This is not only helpful for independence but is great for hand-eye coordination and developing a sense of when they are hungry and full.
Ask for Volunteers. When getting ready to leave the house or transition to bedtime, naptime or turning off screens it can be helpful to ask “who wants to help me with ___?” or “who can turn off the lights?” Giving children the opportunity to be helpful makes them feel proud and gives them a sense of power in their lives as they are doing tasks they see us do daily.