Q: My four-year-old daughter has become extremely clingy, which is very unlike her. It’s a struggle to get her on the school bus or leave her with a sitter. How can I help her?
A: It may be difficult for your daughter, at four years old, to verbalize what is making her reluctant to be apart from you. Sudden increases in separation anxiety are usually related to a child worrying about her own physical or emotional safety, or that of her parents. Gently let your daughter know you’ve noticed that she seems to be feeling less safe lately. Tell her you would like to help her feel better and ask if there’s something, in particular, she feels worried about. It might be a recent transition, such as starting school or something happening at school or daycare. The distress may also be caused by the birth of a sibling, marital conflict or parental mental health concerns. If you can’t figure out why she has become clingier, try speaking to the other adults in her life — relatives, teachers, caregivers — who might be able to give you some clues. You can help your daughter by preparing her for upcoming separations from you, and by patiently reassuring her each time that you will be back to get her. If it’s practical, consider shortening the time you are separated from her for a while, to build back her confidence. If your daughter continues to have difficulty separating from you despite your efforts, it would be advisable to seek a consultation with a qualified children’s mental health professional.