How to Cope With a Clingy Teenager
The teenage years are a time in which many kids fight for their independence in an attempt to individuate from their parents. However, some teenagers may suffer from the opposite problem, clinging to their parents instead of fighting to get away, a behavior usually based in anxiety. Boston Children's Hospital reports that separation anxiety disorder often manifests as clinginess, with affected children fearing something bad will happen if they're separated from their parents 1.
Talk to your teenager about what makes her feel frightened, anxious or sad. Ask her if something has happened that has made her feel fear or grief. If she doesn't want to talk about it when you first approach her, encourage her to come to you at any time. Let her know you love her and won't judge her.
Make a concrete plan for her to engage in outside interests or spend time with friends. Schedule short periods of highly structured time for her to be away from you, but with other people. Examples include music or art lessons, exercise classes and museum tours.
Reduce your text messages and phone calls when you and your child are apart. Schedule times during which you will not contact each other unless it's a life-threatening emergency. Start with 30 minutes to an hour a day and gradually work up.
Discuss ways your teenager can comfort herself when she feels anxious. Practice situations that trigger her anxiety so she can learn how to cope on her own. For example, if you want to go out for a few hours and leave her home by herself, make a list of phone numbers of people she can call if she feels anxious. Practice what she would say if she called. Do meditation exercises together so she learns to control her breathing.
Schedule an appointment with a child psychologist if you suspect a deeper psychiatric issue is at play. Borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia both feature clinginess among the diagnostic criteria. If your child self-injures, shows eating-disordered behaviors or exhibits delusional thought patterns, he should have an outpatient psychiatric evaluation immediately.
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