How to handle clingy children after months at home

It's normal for children to be a bit anxious after the lockdown. Picture: Shutterstock
It's normal for children to be a bit anxious after the lockdown. Picture: Shutterstock

Young children might be shy, clingy and anxious in coming days since they haven't seen many people beyond their parents and siblings during the Canberra and NSW lockdowns.

University of Canberra clinical psychologist Dr Vivienne Lewis said children might take some time to warm up to other people as the restrictions lift.

"Children who haven't maybe seen other kids for a while or other adults for a while can be quite anxious about that because it seems a bit unfamiliar, given that they've spent nine weeks in lockdown."

When visitors come over, children who are anxious might cry, go and hide in their bedroom or stick very close to their parents.

They won't establish eye contact with the person or won't engage and play with the visitor.

Now that we're allowed five visitors at home, Dr Lewis said it was a good idea to start inviting over visitors to make children more comfortable around other people again.

"Maybe start with some more familiar people... just to get them used to that contact," she said.

"It can also be helpful if you can have five people over to invite some of their little friends over or have a little catch up in the park or the playground, that sort of thing, just to get also get them used to being around other kids."

Children who were shy or introverted before the lockdown might struggle more with being reintroduced to other people, Dr Lewis said.

It's a perfectly normal reaction to being isolated from the world.

Where it becomes a problem is if they are still not settling after a couple of weeks.

"If they're still just as anxious and there's lots of crying and there's lots of upset and maybe even tantruming when kids are about to be dropped off to be with other kids or other adults, or where they continue to be anxious in the home when new people come to visit, that's where you might actually need some more strategic help."

A general practitioner, psychologist, school counsellor or paediatrician might be able to assist.

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Australian Catholic University early childhood course coordinator Laurien Beane said there was a strong biological basis for children to cling to their parents for love and safety.

Ms Beane said parents should focus on being a strong, safe base at home to prepare children for returning to early learning or school amid ongoing stress over COVID-19 and other family concerns such as financial issues.

Children might have a limited memory of their childcare setting or school before the lockdown so Ms Beane said it's important for them to feel like they are in a trusting and safe environment.

"It's important to talk about the children's feelings to help them learn to regulate their emotion because when they're being clingy, they're just communicating their feelings.

"So talking about all of this, discussing plans in advance, explaining to children that it's normal to feel uncertain in new situations and adults do too and then to model being calm and confident with the children when you do drop them off to their childcare or primary school."

Despite some concerns about COVID-19 circulating in the community, Ms Beane said it was important for children to get back to their usual routines as soon as possible during such a vital time in their social development.

"I think the parents should feel confident that the centres and the educators and the staff are very comfortable at ensuring that all of the regulations the government have laid out and all of our standard practices in terms of health and hygiene are being upheld to the stringent requirements."

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This story How to handle clingy children after months at home first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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