Reassurance-seeking behaviours in children refer to actions that are used to seek comfort, support, and confirmation from trusted adults. These behaviours normally manifest when they feel anxious, uncertain, or insecure about something in their lives. Seeking reassurance is a natural response from children who are learning to navigate their surroundings, emotions, and experiences, and who need a sense of safety and stability.
What does reassurance-seeking look like in children?
Children can seek reassurance in a variety of ways, depending on their age, personality, and individual circumstances. Some common examples include:
Asking questions: Children may repeatedly ask questions about things that worry them, or seek confirmation for what they have already been told. For example, a child might continuously ask their teacher, “Are you sure I did a good job?”
Seeking approval: Children may seek constant validation and confirmation that they are loved, cared for, or that they have met expectations. As a result, they tend to rely heavily on others to reinforce their sense of self-worth. For example, a child might frequently ask their parent, “Do you still love me?”
Need for comfort: Children who feel insecure may exhibit ‘clinginess’ or an excessive desire to be physically close to a trusted adult. For example, a child might constantly need to be held or cuddled by their mother.
Repeating actions: Some children may engage in repetitive behaviours or rituals to help alleviate their anxiety. For example, a child might repeatedly check if the doors are locked before going to bed every night.
How do you respond to reassurance-seeking behaviour?
Seeking reassurance is a normal part of childhood development, and often serves as a way of coping with the uncertainties of life. However, it’s important to remember that reassurance is only a band-aid solution that relieves the child’s anxiety in the short term. The key is to strike a healthy balance between providing reassurance and fostering independence and competence. Here are a few ways that you can respond to this behaviour appropriately:
- Validate their feelings: Let the child know that it’s okay to feel anxious from time to time. Assure them that you understand and are there to support them.
- Offer reassurance: Provide some reassurance, while still encouraging the child to develop problem-solving skills so they can learn to manage on their own. Be careful with providing too much reassurance, as this can reinforce dependency.
- Provide guidance: Teach the child that uncertainties and setbacks are a normal part of life. Help them understand the importance of resilience and guide them on how to navigate challenges, as opposed to relying on others for reassurance.
- Establish routine: Implement predictable routines and structures in the child’s life to create a sense of stability and security. Consistency can help to reduce their anxiety and the need for reassurance.
- Encourage self-soothing: Teach the child age-appropriate strategies to help them manage their anxiety by themselves. For example, deep breathing exercises or engaging in activities that they enjoy.
- Seek professional help: If the child’s reassurance-seeking behaviours are interfering with their daily functioning or causing significant distress, it may be beneficial to seek guidance from a paediatrician or child psychologist. Excessive or persistent reassurance-seeking could be a sign of anxiety or other underlying issues.
By responding to reassurance-seeking behaviours with patience, empathy, and appropriate guidance, parents and caregivers can help children to develop healthy coping mechanisms and build emotional resilience as they navigate the challenges of childhood and beyond.