Dealing With a Clingy Toddler

If you have a 15- to 23-month-old, you may find yourself occasionally needing to explain to your friends, “No, I haven’t grown a third leg. That’s just my toddler.” Some toddlers are gleeful about their newfound ability to walk and can’t wait to break free from mom and dad. But others alternate between exercising their independence and clinging fearfully every time they are faced with a new situation. If your little one is the clingy type, how do you deal with it?

For starters, it’s perfectly normal for a toddler to be clingy. They’ve just entered a whole new world of walking-around freedom, and some days it might just seem too overwhelming for them to process. Of course, some toddlers are definitely more clingy than others, and that probably has more to do with temperament than anything else. Does your child tend to be shy around strangers? You might have a clinger on your hands. Does your child love to meet new people and smile at every person he or she sees? Probably they’re not so clingy. But either way, each child adjusts to new situations at his or her own speed. As you help your child through this stage, consider the following:

It’s a real fear: Your child is probably not clinging to your leg just to be annoying. What he is going through is like a real fear, and you should treat it as such, with compassion and understanding. Don’t push him away, and don’t force him or rush him into new situations. Be patient with him. Give him a chance to find his own comfort level, and he’ll learn to trust you to understand his needs.

Allow more time: What your clingy toddler is telling you is that she is not ready to transition to something new. So if you’re headed to a new story hour, for example, try to get there early so she has plenty of time to check out the surroundings and make herself feel at ease.

Keep them busy: If you’re at home and you child is still clinging, the problem may be boredom. In this case, distraction or redirection usually works best. So, for example, if you’re trying to make dinner and you have a little one hanging on to your leg, put a large pot on the floor and fill it with Legos and give him a spoon to “stir” up some “soup.” Or get him involved by letting him tear up pieces of lettuce for salad. The more he’s focused on what he’s doing, the less he’ll focus on the fact that you’re doing something else.

Don’t worry about “spoiling”: If you help a clingy toddler you’re not “spoiling” her – contrary to what your grandmother or someone who raised children in another generation might tell you. Helping your child work through a fear will allow her to build trust in you and build confidence in herself.

Consider underlying factors: No matter what your child’s temperament, he will be more likely to cling if he is tired, teething, or sick. If you know that any of these is a factor, try not to push him too hard – or just throw in the towel on the day’s activities. For some reason, kids also tend to get clingy when their moms are pregnant and at their most exhausted. If you have the energy, try to use this time for some one-on-one cuddling activities (like reading) that will be harder to do once you have a baby.

Of course, even the most patient mom in the world will get impatient with a toddler who clings and clings. If you fear that something is truly wrong, have your child see the doctor. But otherwise, enjoy the “closeness” because, like any stage, it will pass sooner than you know, and within weeks or months your child will happily leave you behind as he runs off to meet his friends.

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