A toddler who sticks to you like glue at the playground — or anywhere else for that matter — may simply be shy by nature. She could also be going through separation anxiety, which she’ll soon outgrow. Either way, there are some things you can do to encourage your child to play on her own:
* Choose a quiet time to visit the playground. Is the play area a zoo every time you stop by? Your toddler may be clinging to you because she’s feeling overwhelmed by all the rambunctious kids around her. Try taking her to the park when it’s nearly or completely empty. With fewer strangers to intimidate her, she may not even want to hold your hand.
* Praise her when she asserts her independence. If she ventures off — even if only for a few minutes or a few feet away — make a big deal of it. Shower her with accolades (“Wow, look what a big girl you are. You went down the slide all by yourself”) to make her feel good about herself. And avoid comparing her to another child, even if you’re trying to couch your words in a positive way (saying “That’s great, honey. You’re just like Maddie. She’s so friendly,” may send her the message that her friend’s behavior is the gold standard and she has to strive hard just to keep up, deflating her confidence).
* Feign exhaustion. Park yourself on a bench and ask her to sit next to you. When she gets antsy and starts to pull you toward the slide, explain that you need a rest and encourage her to go on her own. Tell her you’ll keep an eye on her and that you’re just a few feet away if she needs your help. You may even want to try a little reverse psychology by begging her not to wander too far; toddlers have a way of doing something you’ve expressly told them not to do and this is one way to use this trait to your advantage.
* Choose your battles carefully. There’s nothing wrong with following your child around the playground. It may be frustrating or boring for you, but she won’t need you to chaperone her forever. If you spend your entire time at the playground cajoling her to play alone, neither of you will have fun and she probably won’t learn anything. Instead, accept that she needs you to be with her right now and try a few of the tactics listed here when she seems open to them. Someday when she’s more sure of herself and familiar with the playground, she’ll be pleading with you to let her go off on her own. Then you’ll think back to this stage and wonder what all the fuss was about.
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