Clingy Toddler Help

toddler holding head, toddler in purple, oh brother!, tips for clingy toddler, purple butterfly jacket, I often get asked what to do about a clingy toddler. As parents, we want to raise autonomous children who are also well-attached to us and to others who care for them, but clinginess can be frustrating.

Clinginess is about separation and separation at different ages and stages is often difficult for parents as well as for children.

First it’s important to recognize when the separation anxiety is our own instead of our child’s. A child leaving our side to venture out, a child left in someone else’s arms at day care, or a child walking into a preschool class, can be charged moments of conflicting feelings for Moms. The way we respond can affect how our children react. They are signs of autonomy and can be scary for toddlers as well as for Mamas!

Even a child under a year old crawls away and tests his independence before returning. It’s great to be encouraging and give your child positive feedback as he glances over his shoulder to check on you! Then go ahead and smoosh him up with kisses and hugs when you reunite to let you both know that the time apart was okay.

Separation, in increasing increments throughout childhood, the teen years and beyond, is one of the great dances of parenthood: how much to let go, how much to protect them. How much to push them to do something on their own, how much to pull them back. This is true at 8 months and 18 years old, we have to find balance. Sometimes the separation makes the parents uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s the kiddos who are troubled.

mom holding computer with toddler on leg, toddler hanging on mom's leg, toddler not letting me get work done, dealing with toddler clinginess, What happens when you have a clingy toddler who just won’t separate? How can families build positive, strong connections with their children while also reducing the extreme clinginess that cause some families to struggle?

From 18 months old to about 2.5/3 years old, it’s common for children to really put up a fight and not want to be left behind. It’s completely age appropriate behavior and how parents manage this can help build a child’s confidence, or can prolong the protests beyond being “a phase.”

It’s always up to the parent to determine his/her own emotions and needs in a situation: Do you like to feel needed so unconsciously encourage clingy behaviors? Do you brush your child away out of impatience giving your child more reason to feel fearful of separation? Aim for that equilibrium between nurturing your child’s needs and your own, between pushing beyond his readiness to step out or impeding it.

When leaving, it’s key to prepare a child ahead of time, explaining where you will be leaving her and being clear and specific about your return. Reassuring her that Mommy will ALWAYS come back is critical. Departing with a big hug, kiss and smiling face, being the brave one even when you don’t feel that way inside, will help reassure your child. It’s best not to sneak out, this could cause your child to be less trusting, but saying good bye and having the care provider immediately distract and entice your child with a toy can work magic.

If you’re dealing with excessive clinginess, first try to identify the root cause, have you moved, are parents take a walk with a toddler, toddler activities on a walk, solutions for a clingy toddler, building independence, kid balancing on curb, holding a child's hand, arguing, is Mom starting a new job, is there some additional cause of stress or anxiety for your child? If your life situation could be the cause, your child has a valid reason to be clingy and needs steady reassurances and compassionate understanding.

Just being a toddler and growing up can also be a valid reason to be clingy, too. Give your child some intense one-on-one time each day, give her your full, undivided attention, no phone, no TV, nothing but focusing on your child. It doesn’t have to be for hours, but a solid half hour of Mom-time alone will build a child up. Play a game, read books, do puzzles, a craft or take a walk and stop every time she wants to examine a bug or a leaf.

It’s also okay to give a child a big hug and snuggle then say, “Mommy needs to cook dinner now, you can sit here and play with Play-Doh while I work.”

My kids used to love “working” with me in the kitchen, I’d lay out a big beach towel and several bowls of water with bubbles in them and give them some kitchen utensils, funnels, potato mashers and ladles and they’d have a ball for a good chunk of time! Enough time to let me get a job done, or at least part of one!

blowing bubbles, child blowing bubbles, games to play with toddlers, crafts for toddlers, pudgy toddler hand, Balance special, focused time with time together but doing separate activities; alternate one-on-one time with quiet alone time in separate rooms. Visual timers are the perfect tool for this, for example, set the rules for alone time and when your child sees the red on the clock disappear, he’s allowed to call for you, but not before. This is a way to practice separation in small steps, within your home.

Keep trying separations little by little at a grandparent’s or neighbor’s home. Prepare your child, say a confident good-bye, stay in touch with the adult and return after the child has calmed and had time to have some fun. Slowly build up to longer times apart.

A child who is secure in the knowledge that Mom will always return, who has it proven to him repeatedly, and who also has times of undivided attention from his parents, will, in time, grow from a clingy toddler to an independent pre-schooler.


Are you feeling overwhelmed by your child’s intense needs? Velcro Child

Touchpoints – T. Berry Brazelton

Taming Toddler Clinginess

Dealing with a Clingy Toddler

Help! My Toddler is so Clingy



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20 Responses to Clingy Toddler Help

  1. My daughter used to play in the pots cabinet while I cooked dinner, and open the drawer with all of the cork trivets and lay them all over the kitchen floor like stepping stones. It was a game – no matter how quickly I would put it away when she wasn’t looking, she would take it back out again. Frustrating then, happy memories now. 🙂

    • Leah DeCesare says:

      Isn’t it true that in hindsight things can look so sweet that made us crazy while we were in it?! I try to think of that when I’m annoyed at something now, one day, I’ll miss this!

  2. alicia kamm says:

    Love this! Great advice. I’m sharing with my FB page. Thanks Leah!

  3. Fantastic article Leah, full of great insight. This is so tough for both mom and toddler, and I get such guilty feelings still when I think of dropping my two year old Alexander off at preschool screaming for me everyday!! How could I have done it !?!

  4. Joanna says:

    Great post!! I love my Learning Tower for dealing with clingy toddlers while working in the kitchen. They seem to be much happier when they are at my “level”

  5. Great post filled with a ton of valuable information. My girls all went through a phase where they kinda freaked out when I left, but I always reassured them that I would be back and they were OK once I was gone. When I’m home, they are my little shadows. 🙂

  6. Jessica says:

    My kids are big fans of helping out in the kitchen, too. I am lucky that I never experienced much clinginess with my son. My daughter is 20 mos and she actually tells me to “Go” when I bring her to daycare 🙂 Love the advice on the one-on-one time!

    • Leah DeCesare says:

      I got kicked out of preschool, too, by my kids, but they had their moments of attaching to my leg. We still try to do one-on-one time but in a different way now that our kids are older – but it’s a valuable practice at every age!

  7. Great advice! I actually remember being a clingy kid, and crying when my parents would leave. But they always assured me they’d be back, and they were right. 🙂

    • Leah DeCesare says:

      Thanks! I have a memory of one time being left at a neighbor’s and screaming for my mother! Amazing how that can stick with us SO MANY years later! 🙂

  8. I can’t do anything by myself. My sous chefs can help as long as the follow directions, if not they get “fired”.

  9. […] being tied down for nap schedules and managing babyhood, all while ALSO dealing with the needs of toddlers and school-aged […]

  10. Ariadne Brill says:

    So many great points! Thanks for including positive parenting connection as one of the resources!

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