Come Say Hi

If only your little one wasn’t attached to your hip every time you attended a gathering! DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON shares how you can help your shy child.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Your toddler is such a “sticker” and only wants you.

Sometimes, you wish you didn’t have to take her to family celebrations because she refuses to be held by anyone else – sometimes not even her dad. She also cries her heart out whenever well-meaning relatives come up to greet her.

It’s not easy managing festive celebrations when there are so many people around. You want to catch up with relatives and want her to socialise with the other kids, but it seems impossible.

Here are suggestions to help you break free:

Look who’s here If you know your two-year-old usually clings to you at those seasonal gatherings, help build her social resilience.

Gradually get her used to celebrations by inviting a friend to your house. Then invite two or three of your friends over at once, and so on. The more she gets used to being in the company of other people, the less likely it is that she’ll cling to you.

Have a chat Tell your child a day before the family event that she’ll soon meet her cousins, aunts and uncles. Talk about it positively. Explain that she’ll have fun and that they would be so pleased to see her.

Point out that you will be with her, so she has no need to be afraid. Reassure her that the people whom she is going to meet are kind and caring. Remind her on the day itself.

Stay calm Most two-year-olds experience shyness at times when meeting total strangers, so your toddler’s behaviour is normal.

Don’t blame her – or yourself – and try not to be angry with her. If you get annoyed because she won’t leave you for a second, she’ll only cling on even harder. Your loss of temper will make her want to stay by your side even more.

Instead, keep calm and reassure her once again that she is perfectly safe, and she’ll enjoy mixing with the others there.

One at a time She’ll probably feel overwhelmed if she meets many people all at once, so try to “stream” those introductions. In other words, don’t expect her to greet her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins altogether, or in quick succession.

Instead, introduce her to them one or two at a time, so she can gradually build up her confidence. Once both of you have spent a few minutes with the first person, move to another part of the room to chat with someone else.

Persist with your plan If your toddler still sticks to you no matter how well you’ve prepared her, set limits. For instance, you can let her stand beside you, or allow her to hold your hand while you chat with others.

But avoid the trap of picking her up as soon as she starts to resist, or you’ll end up holding her for the entire occasion.

Praise and persevere Don’t give in to her clinginess at these events; encourage her social resilience, even if she is still hesitant. The more festive celebrations she attends, the more she’ll be accustomed to them.

Give her lots of cuddles and praise when she eventually meets new people without making a fuss.

Your encouragement makes her feel good about herself, and she’ll try even harder the next time.

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The more festive celebrations she attends, the more she’ll be accustomed to them.