Strategies for Dealing With Overdependency in Children
Overdependent behavior involves intensely seeking help, affection, or attention from another person, which interferes with the ability to learn. Dependency is normal but not when it prevents children from doing things they can do for themselves. Overdependency results in children being unable to function without adult support (Pader, 1981). Children who are overdependent often whine and cry and may refuse to do things they are capable of doing. They constantly seek an adult's assistance, physical proximity (nearness) to the adult, and say things such as, "watch me," "talk to me," or "look at what I made."
Some children attempt to control their environment by acting overdependent or like the "baby" because this behavior often gets an adult's attention (Gargiulo, 1985). Many adults feel a sense of sadness as their children grow up and reinforce immature overdependent action. They may overprotect children to keep them from harm. Adults sometimes reinforce overdependency because they feel guilty for not paying enough attention to children (Blechman, 1985).
One method that can help prevent overdependence is to encourage children to make choices, such as deciding what to eat, wear, and play. Adults should avoid dominating children by imposing too many rules or by nagging. These actions produce children who are obedient but often overdependent. They should also avoid doing things for children that they can do for themselves (Seligman & Darling, 1989).
Once an adult has made a reasonable request, such as "Go get your coat and put it on," adults should not help children if they are capable of independently performing the task. Whenever children act overdependent, adults should encourage them to practice their independence by saying, "You need to do this yourself." Adults should remind children how "good" it feels when tasks are completed independently by making comments like, "Wow! You did it yourself!" When adults gradually increase expectations for more independent behavior, most children adjust to the expectations (Hussey-Gardner, 1992).
Intense separation anxiety is an especially troubling form of overdependent behavior. Separation anxiety occurs when children become very upset during separation from their parents or other significant people, such as teachers, siblings, and friends. It is normal for children to act nervous, be "clingy," or regress to more "infantile" behavior when adjusting to new school settings, new homes, new babies, or other stressful events (Hussey-Gardner, 1992).
It is not normal for children to cry for an excessively long time after separation. To help reduce separation anxiety, adults should allow children to take along something special, such as a favorite toy, during the process of separation. Teachers should greet children as they arrive at school and help them find an activity on which to focus. This helps children feel more comfortable during separation. Making activities readily available and providing lots of "fun" things may help children "separate" more easily (Blechman, 1985).
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