Witnessing your toddler becoming increasingly clingy can be a really upsetting experience. At first, it’s quite cute having your little one desperately wanting your attention; especially if this is your first parenting experience. However, when it starts to turn from wanting additional cuddles to clinging onto your legs and screaming for you to stay, it’s heart-breaking to watch.
So, what causes toddlers to become clingy and more pressingly, what can be done about it?
Understanding Your Toddler’s Clingy Behavior
It may not be very reassuring right now, but most toddler’s go through a clingy phase. It’s a natural development milestone that can appear to come out of nowhere. One minute they’re content running stark naked up to houseguests, the next they’re clinging to you and shying away from other people.
Clingy behavior can also be triggered by specific events. It could be the start of nursery, or if a new sibling comes along. Some toddlers are even triggered by going on a vacation. Any change in their routine and being surrounded by strange things can be upsetting for your toddler.
What many parents struggle with most, is when the child favors one parent over the other. The anxiety doesn’t just present itself when they’re faced with strangers – sometimes it could be they suddenly only want their dad or mom, but not both. If this happens, don’t panic – it’s completely normal. The key thing to keep in mind is that these are just phases and they do pass.
So, switching from the mindset that something is wrong to the fact it’s actually quite normal, is the first thing you need to try to do.
Whatever the cause, it is possible to help them overcome clingy behavior and below we’ll look at some of the best tips you can follow.
How To Deal With Clingy Behavior
Now you know it’s natural for your toddler to develop clingy behavior, let’s look at how you can help…
1. Try To Help Them Understand How They Are Feeling – Granted, this isn’t easy! Toddlers have very limited skills to fully understand emotions, but there are ways you can help them understand their anxiety.
First, try to identify exactly what it is that has caused the behavior. Once you’ve figured it out, you can then attempt to help them understand. So, for example if they are clinging to your legs while you’re trying to clean, you could say:
“You want mommy to play with you and I want to too, but I need to clean. I promise after I have finished I will play with you.”
It may not work, but this kind of statement does help your toddler to understand that you recognize how they feel and that you do want to be there for them, which can act as great reassurance.
2. Never Ignore Or Punish The Behavior – A clingy toddler is no doubt frustrating, but it’s important to not vent your frustration on your little one or try to ignore the behavior. What this actually does, is it makes your toddler feel like they have nowhere safe to turn if they feel insecure or scared. This in turn can make them feel even more frightened and in the case of being around other people, shy.
3. Opt For A Change Of Scenery – There will be days where no amount of reasoning seems to be working at home. So, if you feel yourself getting overly-frustrated with the clingy behavior, take your little one out for a while. It could be a short walk, a trip to the park or even a trip to the store. Getting out of the house and having a change of scenery can do wonders for both of you.
4. Don’t Avoid Being Away From Them – It may be upsetting, but don’t be tempted to avoid being separated from your toddler to make the situation more bearable. They do need to learn how to be away from you and in most cases, toddlers don’t stay upset for very long. Once you’ve gone, it may take a little while but they will settle down and adjust. Also, if you cave in and don’t go when they make a fuss, it’s going to encourage them to continue the behavior every time you need to leave them.
5. Don’t Sneak Away – A common way parents try to avoid the upset of seeing their toddler distraught when they leave is to sneak off without letting their toddler know. Once they realize you’ve left them without saying goodbye, it will break down the trust between you. Instead, keep your goodbye to them as short and calm as possible. If you start to get stressed, they’re going to sense that and will quickly become upset. So, smile, stay positive and calmly say goodbye.
6. Avoid Checking In On Them Frequently – Yes you’re going to be racked with guilt as soon as you leave and desperate to know how they are getting on.
However, if you check in on them too frequently, it’s going to make it much harder for everyone involved; especially if you’re asking to speak to the child to check they’re ok. Your toddler will be confused why they can’t see you and could end up begging you to come home. You’ll end up upset because they are now upset and the caregiver looking after them will become stressed trying to deal with the situation.
7. Encourage Independence Via Praise – During clingy times, it really helps to praise your toddler when they make steps to be a little more independent. This includes playing by themselves, making new friends and even helping you do chores around the house. Praising them for these behaviors will give them the message they are more than capable of doing things by themselves without you there constantly supervising them.
Another added bonus of getting your toddler to help around the house is that it helps to build confidence. Setting them tasks they can complete, shows them they are valuable and gives them a real sense of achievement. The more confident they become in their ability to do things, the less clingy they will be.
8. Gradually Increase Social Interactions – If the clingy behavior is triggered more around strangers, try to increase social interactions gradually. The two main things to keep in mind here is that you shouldn’t try to push them in at the deep end or force them to interact with others.
Start small by taking them to a park or small play group. Then let them interact at their own pace. They may not want to interact with anyone at all the first few times, but they will start to become more confident the more times you expose them to small social situations. Then you can start increasing the amount of people they come into contact with.
Overall, it is distressing watching your toddler cling to you, begging you not to leave them. However, you really need to remind yourself that it’s temporary and with the tips above, you can help them overcome this traumatic period.