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Locked In with your Kids? 5 Tips to Increase Your Child’s Independence

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Your kids zoom bombing your work calls getting old? Tell me about it...

With 24/7 family time being the new normal, it's hard not to think separation anxiety will occur for all parties once we head back into the world. 

So what can we do NOW to mitigate the inevitable anxiety that will occur when heading back to school, work, and life? 

Meet our Experts: Mina Yadegar, Psy.D. and Joshua Masse, Ph.D. clinical child psychologists from the Boston Child Study Center (BCSC) – Los Angeles

The Boston Child Study Center (BCSC) is a treatment, training and research center dedicated to improving the lives of children, adolescents, young adults, and families. Together they layout 5 simple tips to help increase you child's independence within the confines of your house. 

 

Read their amazing article below!

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Increasing Your Child’s Independence Within the Confines of Your House During COVID-19

By Mina Yadegar, Psy.D.and Joshua Masse, Ph.D.

With you and your little one likely spending considerably more time together, you may be noticing an increase in anxiety at bedtime or even moments of separation during the day (e.g., when you and your child are in different rooms).  Many parents are concerned for their child starting Pre-K or returning back to school again after COVID-19.  Perhaps you would like to foster independence in your child within the many limitations of a lockdown. 

We are all experiencing an increase in anxiety and stress in recent times.  In young children anxiety may be expressed as fear of being alone, clinging to you, difficulty sleeping, or protesting when you go grocery shopping or out for a walk.  Your parental instinct may be to comfort your child and accommodate anxiety by co-sleeping together, sitting with them during virtual school, or having them sit on your lap during your work conference calls.  However, such accommodating behaviors maintain and reinforce anxiety in the long-term.  Children may then develop the belief that they are unable to cope with anxiety or that their fear (e.g., of sleeping alone) is actually threatening. Instead many parents want to teach their children to be brave and independent in the face of anxiety and the current uncertainty of the future.

Name the anxiety

I encourage children to name anxiety an unfriendly name.  My own child patients have named anxiety with such names as: “Mr. Bossy,” “Ms. Worry,” or “DoodleBob” (from the show “SpongeBob”).  This way parents and children can work together to identify “Mr. Bossy” without anyone feeling blamed.  For example, when children have difficulty separating from you, you can tell your child “sounds like Mr. Bossy is making it hard for you to sleep on your own.”  Children and parents can then work together to make a game plan to boss back Mr. Bossy and create steps towards bravery.

Building bravery one step at a time

It is wonderful when parents encourage children to reach goals; we can set our children up for success by breaking down larger goals into smaller steps.  For example, if it is too big a step for your child to sleep in their own room tonight, perhaps we can start with your child sleeping on a mattress or sleeping bag by your own bed.  Each night the mattress or sleeping bag can be moved further and further from your own.  If your child gets up in the middle of the night and crawls into your bed try to redirect your child back to their own bed.  Depending on your child’s age, other steps to increase your child’s courage can include playing independently in the backyard or their room, studying at their desk, going to the bathroom and bathing on their own.  Perhaps, at first just for very brief periods, and then for longer and longer periods of time.

Positively reinforce your child for any bravery steps taken

Encourage your child to continue to be brave by reinforcing any positive steps they take.  This can be done through praise (“I’m proud of you for sleeping in your own bed last night”), which is especially powerful if your words are genuine and authentic.  A reward plan or point chart can provide additional reinforcement, where children earn points for each brave step taken, which can be accumulated and exchanged for a reward.  Reward plans are most effective when: rewards are exclusive to the reward system (a reward of ice cream is likely not motivating for a child who regularly eats ice cream), parents are consistent in providing points immediately after they are earned, and parents keep to their promises of agreed upon rewards.   

Routines

Children thrive on structure, and routines allow children to maintain predictability.  As much as possible try to keep normal routines, such as meal times, bath times, and bed times.  Of course, all our schedules have been adjusted recently as we are working from home and children have virtual school.  Try to find consistency in this new schedule.  This new schedule may include independent tasks (e.g., brushing their teeth on their own without reminders) and also regular family activities (e.g., reading and playing together).

Seek support when needed

Adjustments and transitions are challenging, especially during this time.  While an increase in stress is understandable and valid, if the anxiety is overwhelming or interfering, support from a therapist may be helpful.  Many therapists are continuing to provide care virtually through telehealth.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment that can teach your child coping skills, while helping parents support their child along the way. 

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