My youngest child is a stage-5 clinger all the way. I’ve mentioned that a lot on here and now, I’m going to detail it a bit more and how I handle her.
To be fair, she’s perhaps one of the sweetest kids ever, probably one of the most generous souls on any planet in any universe. But the girl is as clingy as they come.
It could be my fault.
My eldest got to go with me to the school I taught at while living abroad. She was submerged in a school environment early on with the safety net of seeing me passing by her classroom throughout the day. She loved school and still very much does.
But my youngest was just a baby when we moved back to America. Instead of being apart from me all day, she was right by my side. Opting to work from home while caring for her since daycare costs were so outlandish, we did everything together. I have to admit; I loved it because when my eldest was so small, I didn’t get to take her around like this.
My eldest was easy to wean off breastfeeding, but with my youngest, I had to have her surgically removed practically. It was no easy feat. And when it came time for her to start preschool, I had to drag her. My eldest hopped out of the car and yelled, “Bye Mommy!”
Do you have a clingy child?
Don’t be scared. I’ve managed to curb the clinginess and help reassure my little one that all is well in the world. She’s becoming more and more independent, but she goes an inch at a time. And you know what I learned? That’s totally fine and normal.
All kids have their own pace. Sometimes letting go of us is harder for clingy kids. It’s up to us to help them make that transition.
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Clinginess is Normal
In handling my clingy preschooler, I’ve found that 1) I’m not alone, and 2) it’s very typical. Some kids are just the way they are. My big one has been making her own jelly sandwiches (she hates peanut butter) for a snack after school for 2 years now. But my little one, who can dress, often whines and asks for help with the things we know she can do all on her own.
It’s frustrating, but I smooth over my nerves and talk to her. “Hey, didn’t you dress yourself yesterday? You did it! Can you show Mommy how you did it?” Other times, this doesn’t work at all. But hey, I try.
I also bring up examples of when she was a big girl all by herself, like when she peeled her orange and ate it. When I focus on these things, it seems to encourage her to loosen her grip from me just a smidge.
I found that the Positive Parenting Connection had some fantastic tips, which made me feel a lot better about being a parent of a clingy child. Dr. Sears also has excellent advice for us in regards to clingy kids.
It can be incredibly annoying to want 5 minutes alone only to have your kid crash out on top of your lap while you’re just trying to read something that isn’t Dr. Seuss for a few minutes. Or to talk to one of your girlfriends about a mutual friend’s awful new boyfriend. But (you love my ‘but’s’ of course!) if we dismiss our clingy kids every time, it’s only going to make matters worse.
It helps to try to figure out what’s making them so clingy.
Why Kids Are Clingy
Whether you have a clingy 2-year-old, 3-year-old, 5-year-old, or 7-year-old, there are many reasons your kid is behaving in a clingy fashion. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. It depends on your kid. Here’s what to look for though:
As I said, my eldest is very independent, but my youngest is not. But that comes with a big caveat. My youngest, once comfortable, will be the most social and friendly in a room full of children. She only needs to get into that comfort zone.
I just took her to register for kindergarten at her sister’s school. I was greeted by one staff member to help me fill out paperwork while one of the kindergarten teachers was on-hand and awaiting moms like me to come in with their kids. At first, my little one clung to my side. But moments later, she was listening to the teacher. By the time I had her registered, she was happily engaging in an activity, oblivious to me.
We all have our personalities and understanding what seems scary to your kid is the key to getting them to loosen the grip on those apron strings.
Sometimes, a significant change could be the cause of clinginess. Even in bigger kids, a trip, a change in your routine, moving, an illness, a new sibling, divorce, death of a grandparent…the list goes on, and on…this can bring on the clinginess. This only requires you to help reaffirm their safety.
Here’s one story:
My youngest recently got upset because there was a dead lizard on our driveway. She dearly loves animals and gets excited to see lizards running on our patio and in our garden. My husband gave the lizard a proper burial, but for a week, she would get upset and clingy when going out to the car. So I would remind her of all the young, healthy lizards out there and try to shift her focus, so she felt less upset. She takes things very much to heart, and if your kid does too, try turning the focus to make them feel safe again.
You’re not paying attention
You can’t always pay attention to your kid. Sometimes, you have to make an urgent phone call, handle some work, or even cook dinner. Other times, you’re just trying to take a minute to yourself for your sanity before moving on to the next task. Kids can randomly get clingy when you’re not focusing on them, even if they were busy before that. In my opinion, this is the toughest one to overcome.
Understanding Your Clingy Child
As I mentioned, every kid is different, and every clingy kid has a different reason for clinging to you. You have to figure out what’s causing the clinginess to bubble up inside of them.
Watch them in groups
Introverted children might be intimidated in groups, at least initially. New things like this can be earth-shattering to them. If this is how your child is, stick with them at first until they feel comfortable. You may even want to keep the time in a group shorter at first.
Listen to what they tell you
To understand your clingy kid, you need to listen. Trying to soothe them with a blanket of “it will be ok” isn’t the answer. Asking them if it scares them to be in a big group or if they’re worried they won’t be able to find you is a better solution. It helps you get to the root cause of why they’re adhering. Then you can let them know you understand.
Make them feel loved
Some kids need more physical love than others.
My youngest is a snuggler. She always wants hugs and love. She embraces friends when they come over. She hugs her sister until her sister gets annoyed. She always wants those cuddles. Sometimes it helps to be proactive about them to fill up her cup rather than waiting for her to get whiney.
Clingy Kids Want to Feel Safe
Often, the cause of clinging is that something is foreign to your kid. Helping them acclimate can go a long way to releasing the cling. With my clinger, I often tell her first about what’s going to happen when it’s something outside of our routine. I find that this puts her at incredible ease.
I never sneak off either. I learned early on that it only makes it worse when you return. The other day, I went to take a neighbor who had just had back surgery a casserole. My husband was home so I told him I’d just run by and drop it off to her. My kids happen to love this neighborhood, but I knew bringing them along would be too much for her to handle in her weakened condition. I could have just left, but I worried that if they came downstairs and saw I was gone, particularly my youngest, perhaps they would try to open the door and look for me. So I told them where I was going and why they couldn’t come. Instead, I suggested they make cards for her that we could give her later on. This went quite well.
Another thing I’ve found to help when getting my youngest to let go is to try to arrive early at parties or other events to help her ease into the change. She’s only initially shy in groups, though if her sister is with her, she’s lovely. I’ve come to realize that her clinginess is often a sign that she feels insecure and finding ways to make her feel safe and secure is my best strategy for getting her to relax.
Something else I encourage is for my husband to get more involved.
With him spending time with our girls, it takes the pressure off me, and it strengthens their bond together. Both my kids were always guilty of seeking me out for every little thing. Now they know if I’m in the shower and they need something, they can ask the other supposed-grownup in the house for help.
Creating Independence for Clingy Kids
Encouraging independence in a clingy child is perhaps the biggest challenge. This one takes some time. But hey, if I can get my clinger to peel her orange, then anything is possible!
One thing I’ve instituted is chores. My eldest is now in charge of vacuuming the floors while my clinger is the cleaner of tables. I also ask both of them for their help from time to time. I find that kids love to help. It’s something I did back when I was teaching to get a bunch of unruly little kids to settle down.
As my youngest slowly releases her clingy grasp, I also must remind myself that soon she’ll be in school all day and her need to cling on with her Vulcan-death-grip will subside. Still, when she wants to play, and I’m busy, I tell her to give me 5 minutes. Then I
Other times if I really need her to leave me alone while I attend to something, I ask her to make my food in her toy kitchen, color me a picture, or make me something out of Play-Doh. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, I get the time I need to handle my tasks and then get to gush over whatever she brings me. Win-win!
Welcome the Waves of Clinginess
With my clinger, there are times when I’m proud of how far she’s come. This was a kid that didn’t want to stop breastfeeding. She didn’t want to sleep in her room either. At first, I’d put her to bed, and she’d wake up an hour later crying inconsolably. Now, she stays there, most of the night anyway.
I don’t push and fight back as I used to either. She’s not going to crawl into our bed every night forever. It’s all just temporary. Instead, I tell her how proud I am that she stayed in her room for as long as she did and ask her to try to stay longer the next night.
She didn’t come in until 3 am yesterday. And the other night, we’re not sure when she came in, but we woke up with her snuggled up next to us – that kind of clinginess I can take. The smell of her sweet, soft hair and watching her dreaming peacefully is purely precious. One day she will be big enough to realize how uncool my husband and I are so for now, I’m savoring those moments while encouraging independence during her wakeful hours.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.