How to deal with a clingy toddler

Clinginess will blight most toddlers in varying degrees. Perhaps your little one is always firmly rooted in your lap, or follows your around the house 24/7, to the extent you can’t even do laundry alone, let alone use the bathroom? Oh, and play dates – you can forget them. She’s not fussed as long as you are there. Basically, if you’re not within eyesight, the waterworks are switched on pronto. So, what can you do if your tot suffers from separation anxiety? Fortunately, as with most developmental stages, your child’s clinginess will come to pass. In the meantime, though, here’s how to deal with a clingy toddler.

The mum vs. dad narrative

Clinginess can mean your toddler favours one parent more than the other. Don’t be offended by this. And certainly don’t panic. It’s very normal for children to express a preference for one parent during this stage. The solution? The parent who the toddler is less clingy with should try to be as present in the humdrum of daily life as much as possible, including story time, bathing, and feeding. Having this consistent one-on-one time will give her the opportunity to become familiar with individuals besides you, which will allow her to feel less anxious. 

Allow for autonomy

Chances are, your babe won’t be as clingy if she feels more comfortable making her own decisions. How? Promote self-sufficiency. Encourage her to prepare her own snacks, and tell her where to find them. Rearrange your home to make it more toddler-friendly. Instead of hiding or storing items out of reach, make things more accessible for her. You could even get your little one to help around the house. It’s a win-win for you both; you can put your feet up, and she feels like she’s contributing to the family, thereby bolstering her confidence. 

The leave-the-room hack

If your child is clingy, you lose a small part of your independence, too. Sure, it may be endearing at first, but having a child perpetually at your side can leave you feeling exasperated. We think this strategy might help. If it’s safe to do so, attempt to leave the room where your babe is, while simultaneously reassuring her that you’re still around and will be back shortly. You could say something like, “I’m coming right back; I’m just going to get your beaker.” The trick is to talk continuously as you exit the room; your voice will comfort her.

Make new interactions easy

Interactions are an important part of socialising your tot.  But the emphasis needs to be on easing her into them. For instance, it can boost her confidence if she engages with new people while sitting on your lap until she feels secure and happy enough to leave the safety of your presence. You can encourage friends and family to hold your toddler, too – just make sure you’re always nearby. Remember, your cherub’s insecurities are enormously real and visceral; ignoring them will only add fuel to the fire.

Be mindful of your behaviour

Children are receptive little sponges; they absorb new information constantly. With this in mind, never punish your child for her separation anxiety. And don’t make her feel ashamed for not playing with other children. This behaviour won’t do your child’s confidence any favours in the long run. Instead, provide her with plenty of reassurance, and acknowledge how she feels. The world can be a big ol’ scary place sometimes, especially for a tiny tot who’s only just getting to grips with it. The best thing you can do is make her feel understood and supported. 

The childcare issue

Leaving your toddler with a babysitter or at nursery for the first time can be pretty tough – for little one and parent alike. Thankfully, there are a number of strategies you can employ to make these necessary milestones less daunting. As a rule of thumb, always have a ‘settling in’ period – start with a few hours initially, and then gradually work up to a full day. Always give plenty of affection before leaving, say goodbye, and explain that you’ll be back. It’s crucial that you reaffirm several times that you’ll be back. With older children, it can help to give a time frame – after lunch, for example. Another useful tactic is to provide your babe with something that smells of you, like a T-shirt or blanket.

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