Q&A: My toddler is very clingy. Is it due to FIFO, and what to do?

By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: My partner recently started FIFO. On the first swing our little girl coped well, we Skype as often as we can and she always talks about Daddy being at work. I made a calendar and we put a sticker on each day he is away so she knows when he is coming home. She is now getting worse and worse. Very clingy, won’t sleep in her own bed and is just being a handful all round. Is this a stage all nearly two year olds go through? Or is it the fact he is away? How is the best way to handle this?

A: Hi! It’s hard to know whether or not this behaviour would have happened anyway, or if it’s because your partner is working away. Because it is getting worse as your partner goes away, it’s possible that it is the FIFO work that has triggered your daughter’s clinginess. This is not to say that she won’t adjust, and settle down over the next few swings.

I have a few thoughts that might help:

  • Sometimes the stickers on the calendar seem to make things worse for kids, rather than better. Your daughter is a little too young to really get the concept of time or a calendar, so perhaps stop that and see if that helps
  • Ditto with Skyping – it works for some families to Skype daily, but not for others. It's hard to connect with a toddler via Skype, and I think it's hard for the toddler as well. One thing that can work well is to have your partner sing a quick song to her, or read a quick story as a connection point that he does, but she just watches. This might ease her (probably mixed) emotions about seeing and talking with her dad while he's away.
  • It's great that your daughter talks about daddy “going to work”. She's very young to understand why this is so, but you're laying some good groundwork for her. As she gets older she'll understand more about why we need to work, and why daddy needs to go away for work.
  • Most importantly for this age – KEEP HER ROUTINES the same, whether or not her dad is home. Letting her stay up late or changing her day around too much when he's home will contribute to her feeling unsettled.
  • Make a decision about what you want to do about her not staying in her own bed (speak to your local early childhood nurse for some ideas) and then stick to this. If you don't mind her coming in your bed that's fine, but don't expect her not to do this when you're partner is home! Also, always settle her in her own bed at the beginning of the night. You'll get into all sorts of trouble if you start putting her into your bed at the start of the night.
  • As hard as it might be, try not to worry excessively about how she is going. If you're very worried she will pick up on it, and she'll feel even more unsettled. Kids definitely pick up on what they're parents are feeling, so try to remain calm and positive about your new life.
  • Following on from the last point: it might sound strange, but it can help for you to talk with a trusted friend, family member or health professional about how you are feeling about your partner working FIFO. In my experience families who feel very unsure about FIFO have more trouble settling into it than those who feel like they have actively chosen FIFO as a lifestyle decision. I've never seen a study on it, but I've personally noticed that families who feel 'forced' into FIFO seem to worry more about how their children are coping than those families who want to do it for the advantages it brings their family. This point might not be relevant for you, but it's worthwhile having a think about it.

I hope all of those tips help. I’d love to know how she goes!


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