How to Deal with a Clingy Toddler

Toddlers experience a huge amount of growth and development – physically, emotionally, and mentally – so it’s not surprising that many parents encourage a clingy toddler at some point.

We’ve all been there – you need to do something or go somewhere, and you cannot peal your toddler off of you. Perhaps you’re at a family party, and your toddler seems to want to crawl into your skin.

Your normally happy toddler is gone, leaving behind a clingy toddler, and you’re left wondering what is happening.

No matter how frustrating clinginess may be, it’s important for parents to remember this is a normal part of your child’s development. Their clinginess fosters strong, closer connections to their parents, even if it leaves you feeling frustrated at times.

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Is It Normal for Toddlers to be Clingy?

Clinginess and separation anxiety are normal parts of toddler development. It’s common for toddlers to be clingy or shy with people outside their immediate families. Most children experience this behavior at some time, but the intense fears and need for physical contact usually fade as a child gets older.

This clinginess is sometimes called separation anxiety, and separation anxiety is a strong fear of being away from a parent or other person who provides care and comfort. Separation anxiety can appear anytime between the ages of 18 months and two-and-a-half years old, but it may not peak until age 4 or 5.

Anxiety prompts young children to cry when separated from parents, become angry when left with someone they don’t know well, have trouble sleeping alone or being apart from family members, and experience nightmares about being away from parents.

Your child might exhibit different signs of clinginess. Most often, your toddler simply wants to be physically close to their parent, but some other normal signs include:

  • Crying when left with a babysitter or at preschool
  • Sleeping in their parents’ bed at night
  • Refusing to participate in social interactions if mom or dad isn’t close.

Your toddler is worried you’ll leave and never return. However, that’s not the only cause of clinginess. You might notice that your toddler is clingy when he’s hungry, tired, or having an off schedule day. Physical changes like teething or sickness lead to more clinginess as well.

How Long Does Toddler Clinginess Last?

toddler upset, clinging to mom

Toddler clinginess should decrease noticeably around the third birthday. Until then, there are many things you can do to make your toddler feel more secure and help ease his separation anxiety.

Some children may become clingier than usual at certain stages of development, such as when they are learning new skills like walking. It’s also common for toddlers to be shy with people outside the immediate family during this time. Most children experience some degree of separation anxiety or clinginess; it helps to know that your child isn’t alone in his behavior.

Honestly, I bet most parents have experienced this with all of their children at some point! The good news is that the clingy toddler stage doesn’t last forever – thankfully!

How to Deal with a Clingy Toddler

Even though you might feel frustrated by this clingy toddler behavior, there are things you can try to make their behavior better, and some things that will make it worse.

Let’s take a look at what you should do to deal with this behavior.

1. Don’t Punish or Ignore Their Behavior

If you punish your child for his clinginess, it may only make him more anxious and upset. If you try to simply ignore it or reason with your child, he’ll probably believe that something must be wrong.

While it’s important not to reward clinginess, there are positive ways to respond when children show their anxiety or distress about being separated from a parent or attachment figure.

Parents need to go back to the reason behind clinginess and remind themselves that this is a sign of your child’s attachment to you. They trust you beyond anything or anyone else – that’s a good thing – and you simply need to give them assurance that all is well.

This might be reminders that you’ll be back after you go to dinner with Daddy, or that you’ll pick them up after daycare with plenty of hugs and kisses during the goodbyes.

2. Keep Big Changes in Mind

Major events in your toddler’s life can amplify their clinginess. For example, a birth of a new sibling often leads the toddler to have big emotions.

Don’t be surprised if you notice an increase in their separation anxiety at this stage. Starting a new daycare or school, moving into a new house, or the loss of a pet lead to changes that require toddlers to want to feel more stable and secure. That leads to sticking to their parents like glue.

3. Show Them You Understand Their Feelings

One way to make your toddler feel safe and emotionally secure is by showing “tangible” empathy — meaning you actively demonstrate that you understand how he feels.

For example, if your toddler becomes teary-eyed when you put him down for a nap, say: “I know you’re sad now, but I’ll be right outside the door.”

Show empathy and let your child know that you want to be with them as well. It might be a good time to mention something fun you’ll do together when you return, reassuring him that you will, in fact, return.

4. Allow Your Child to Express His Feelings and Thoughts

Children need to learn to handle and express their feelings and thoughts, especially if they don’t understand them yet. These are great teaching moments for parents!

It’s important to remember that your clingy toddler won’t disappear overnight; toddlers have to learn how to embrace and understand their emotions. This is part of their development, and most kids go through this phase.

5. Talk Through the Moment

clingy toddler crying

Sometimes, your toddler wants to be held when you’re busy with something else like cooking dinner or loading up the washer.

When that happens, describe to your child what you’re doing and why you can’t hold him right then. “Mommy can’t hold you right now because I’m cooking dinner, and the pots are very hot. You could get burned, but if you stay right there, we can talk until I’m done.”

Always try your best to stay calm, and ask your child questions that will redirect his focus away from being upset that he cannot be with you right then.

6. Encourage Opportunities for Independence

Clinginess tends to decrease noticeably around the third birthday. Until then, there are many things parents can do to help their children gradually become more independent.

Expose them to new situations, but keep attachments nearby at all time

7. Praise Those Independent Moments!

When you see your child having an independent moment, praise them for their courage! Parents don’t need to make a big deal over these moments; sometimes simple words of encouragement are all the motivation young children need.

For example, if your child starts spontaneously playing with toys while you’re talking on the phone, say: “You’re playing so nicely by yourself!” Praise should be honest and sincere — kids know when parents are being insincere or manipulative. Children thrive on love and approval from parents, so always remember to offer positive comments out of genuine affection whenever your toddler does something well.

8. Spend Time with Other People

Your toddler needs opportunities to get used to other people besides you. One of the reasons why you have to deal with a clingy toddler is because they aren’t comfortable around other people, especially in new places and situations.

You can schedule regular visits to their grandparents house or an aunt’s house. Have a weekly playdate routine that gets them out of their comfort zone regularly and used being with other people.

Taking small steps like these can help build his self-confidence while giving him a chance to be on his own in an enjoyable situation, which will make it easier for him to tolerate separations in the future.

Be Patient with Your Toddler

Parents should be patient because their toddlers will grow out of being clingy. While this might seem frustrating for you, it’s a small stage that nearly all kids will grow out of by the time they reach four to five years old.

Be patient and remember, this is normal and doesn’t indicate anything is wrong with your child.

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