Let’s get one thing straight. Clingy toddlers are not bad kids. There isn’t something wrong with them that you need to fix. Trust me, I know first hand how incredibly difficult it is when your toddler refuses to entertain themselves and constantly “needs” your attention. It’s intense. Draining. Heck, you don’t even get five minutes alone to pee.
But here’s the thing . . .
It takes two to tango. Clinginess is as much about you as it is them.
I’m not here to blame you. On the contrary, I want you to feel empowered knowing that your clingy child isn’t broken. You have the power to transform things with just a few mindful adjustments to your approach. In doing so, you’ll help your toddler become more autonomous, confident and independent.
Here are four tips that worked wonders for me and my daughter:
1. Allow them their space (just who is the needy one?)
From the moment my first baby was born, I felt compelled to constantly interact with her. Firstly, she was so cute and snuggly, I just wanted to bury my face in her neck and give her smooches (constantly). Add to this a misplaced sense of parental duty. “I need to bring joy into her life at every moment.” This had me smiling, making noises and pulling funny faces at her (constantly).
Here’s what I learned . . . Back off! There is enough wonder in the world, it doesn’t need a silly face in the frame to make it better.
From birth, children have moments where they observe quietly and take in the world around them. As a parent, cherish these moments, sit back and watch, don’t interrupt them. Allow your child his own rhythms and his own journey of wonder.
2. Create a “yes” space
Modify a room or large space so it’s fully hazard-free. Have some toys in there, but keep it simple. Finally, make sure it is secured (e.g., with a baby gate). This is your child’s “yes” space. The aim is to create a zone in which your toddler can be set down without you having to worry about their immediate safety. This means you’re not constantly tugging them away from electrical sockets and glass coffee tables while shouting “no.” As they play in their “yes” space, they can get fully absorbed without interruption.
This leads us to . . .
3. Separate with confidence (you’re not terrible and she’ll survive)
I picked this up from Janet Landsbury and it has been so helpful, I can’t tell you.
Say, you need to use the bathroom and your toddler is in their safe “yes” space — it’s time for you to separate with confidence. Be clear and honest. “I am going to the toilet and will be back in 5 minutes.” Tell them once, then go. This isn’t an escape plan, so no shouting over your shoulder as you desperately run for the door. Be calm, connect with them, and then confidently move away.
Now, let’s be realistic, we’re talking about clingy toddlers here, what’s probably going to happen is that they will erupt into floods of tears and you will feel guilty and doubt yourself. This is the crux of the issue, and it’s in this moment that a critical parenting adjustment can make all the difference.
Your child may be communicating that they don’t want you to go; this doesn’t mean they need you to stay because it’s a matter of life and death. Be comfortable and confident in your need and decision to separate. If they pick up on your uncertainty, it will only increase their upset. With a bit of practise, they’ll relax in the knowledge that you’ll be gone but will soon return. You’ll find that soon they are happy and content for longer periods of time. This is healthy for them and liberating for you.
4. Avoid over-rescuing
You see your darling child struggling with her body (eg, she rolls onto her front and gets stuck) or with her playthings (eg, she wants the brick to go in the hole but it doesn’t fit). She gets frustrated and starts to screech, cry or stamp her feet. What do you do?
If your answer is to immediately jump in and save her, then you may be an “over-rescuer” (I was a sucker for this). Instead of immediately intervening, hold back and observe. Children can get frustrated without wanting help. Pause. Give them space. They will often figure it out for themselves, and by doing so, develop skills and confidence in their own abilities. This leads to self-reliance and less dependence on you.
All toddlers are clingy at times. This is natural, so embrace it (and them). Sometimes, though, it’s us parents who are clinging. Just remember, being a conscious and loving parent involves giving our kids a bit of space and the opportunity to do things for themselves. Do this and you’ll help them to realize their natural independence.