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How to Nurture a Clingy Child

Learn how to help your child become more independent

Your 3-year-old is moved to tears each morning when you drop him off at preschool. How can you comfort and reassure him without perpetuating the daily turmoil that is morning drop-off? We've asked a psychologist, a preschool director, and a mother of twins plus two.

Ellen Hock, Ph.D., separation-anxiety researcher and visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine:
"When you drop off your child, she'll feel more comfortable if there's a regular routine. The reliability of everyday behaviors provides security. For example, you might pause a moment to interact with the teacher. This routine helps reassure your child that Ms. Jones is okay.

"Leave in a consistent way and don't linger. By lingering you reveal your concern and contribute to the escalation of your child's anxiety."

Doris Knuth, director of the Concordia University Early Childhood Education Center, River Forest, Illinois:
"Come at the same time every day to drop off so they know when they get to the classroom it's breakfast or playtime. If you come one day at 8 and the next at 10, the child becomes confused.

"To help the children, we have family photos in the classroom. A child can always go and see pictures of parents, family, the dog, or Grandma and Grandpa. They can be part of a child's day. And children, even children as young as 2 years old, are very proud of showing people their family."

Tina Grotzer, mother of four, Lincoln, Massachusetts:
"At drop-offs, my daughter Annaliese, then 4, ran into preschool, barely saying good-bye. But for the first month, Slater, her twin, sat outside for an hour with his toy rabbit, Bun-Bun.

"Every day I gave him time to settle, along with consistent good-bye rituals that included kisses for each of our hands to put in our pockets. He knew exactly when I was coming back — and I was never late. And then I left, even though he looked sad. I never stopped to talk to anyone but got into my car where he could see me leave. It took most of the year, with tiny transitions, but now he does fine."

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