One of my 5 1/2 year old daughters is very clingy with her mom. She wants to sit by her, be driven to school by her etc. If she doesn’t get her way, tears often result. We’ve had meetings about this, but so far they haven’t helped. PLEASE HELP!

—Sad Dad

Dear Sad Dad,

Not to worry, we can work through this. It is going to take a multifaceted approach, so get set.

Firstly, make sure each of your daughters has scheduled time with both you and Mom. Have it look something like this:

Say Friday Night is date night:
The first Friday in the month is: Dad and Daughter A, Mom and Daughter B
Second Friday: Switch Dad and B/ Mom and A
Third Friday: Family Night: All Together
Forth Friday: Dad and Mom date night

Secondly let the calendar be the authority: Assign each girl one special day per week to be in charge. Mom and Dad each get a special day too. On their day that person gets to make all the decisions possible from meal choices to stories to be read. At a family meeting note down on the calendar all the important details, special days, date nights, whose turn it is to sit by Mom each day, whose turn it is to drive, everything you can think of that might come under question and let the calendar have the final word. Express regret if daughter A doesn’t get her way, “Oh I wish it was your day to sit by Mom, but here it is on the calendar, it’s B’s turn.”

Thirdly (and here is where it gets trickier), allow your daughter to have her feelings, her sadness, her tears. Mom and Dad’s job is now to be sympathetic WITHOUT FIXING!!!! “Oh you seem really sad! Go to your room and have a good cry and then do something to help yourself feel better.” Meanwhile Mom and Dad do something to help themselves feel better and to stick to their resolve. Remember! As long as you get hooked into your daughter’s feelings and trying to fix them the dynamic will continue.

Fourthly (and maybe this belongs under number 1!) Mom and Dad do their inner work to work through the feelings their daughter is triggering in them while allowing her to experience her own stuff.

Bottom Line: It is our responsibility to help our children learn to be in the world and meet their own emotional needs. Whenever we give in to trying to fix or change their feelings we teach them that they need something outside themselves to fix how they feel or to be OK. This is how addiction begins.