How to Handle a Clingy Child
Clinginess in children is nothing unheard of, nor is it unnatural. In fact, it’s considered to be part of a healthy development process, a period of clinginess which your child will eventually outgrow with time and as they learn how to be more independent.
However, while it does serve its own purpose in helping children learn more and understand better how the world works around them, for a parent it can become suffocating fast.
You’re already with your child the majority of the day taking care of them and spending time together and it can all be pretty challenging and exhausting as it is, especially when they’re still very young, but when they also become clingy and you find yourself unable to work or relax or even enjoy the guests’ company because of the suddenly very attention-demanding behavior of your child – then it might be an issue!
But how can you deal with a potential problem if you don’t know what causes it in the first place? In order to pinpoint what might be the stress factor that intensifies the natural clinginess in a child.
Wait! Stress? Yep! You got that right! Stress can be the main cause of clinginess as children seek comfort in their parents. You need to consider what stress factors might be affecting your child, especially since they might not look like much to us grown-ups, but for a small child, even a visit to the dentist could be the reason they will cling to your hand and hide behind your legs in the waiting room.
To understand the reasons behind their clingy behavior even better and to try to help more efficiently, we can look further than just the notion of stress and be aware that stress as we know it is derived from fear and insecurities.
So if your child’s clinginess is stress-derived, think about what could push them towards seeking the safety and comfort of your presence more now than before. Is it a recent change in environments, like moving from one home to a new one, or changes in their group of friends? Family events such as parents separating or divorcing can also affect the child, or even the arrival of a new baby can cause them distress as well. If certain situations or places cause them to get more clingy, such as playing with a mean friend or going to the playground, you should try to avoid putting your child through those situations completely, if possible, and see if their behavior changes.
Look into what you think may be the cause and try to address the issue by calming their fears down. If another family member’s doing is causing them to be stressed then the child might be anxious about them leaving, or the tension between members of the household might be affecting the little one as well. If you think that’s the case, reassuring the child that things will return back to normal would be ideal, or even telling them what is happening and when things are expected to calm back down would make some of their unacknowledged stress fade away as well.
However, if you cannot locate the roots of their sudden change in behavior, all you can do is try to manage it all as it is until the reasons behind their clinginess are clear or simply until they progressively become less clingy.
But how can you do that? Here are a few ways through which you can handle a clingy child and potentially improve their sense of independence.
Give them more space
Which doesn’t mean to push them away from you, but to try to be less protective and give them the opportunity to discover things on their own or to handle situations themselves rather than get used to having a parent or both solve all of their issues and conflicts with others. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get involved in conflicts between your child and someone else’s kid arise on the playground, but try to offer your child the chance to sort it out themselves. You’ll see that, in time, it will greatly improve their social and problem-solving skills as well, not only help in making them more independent.
Use their help
When the child becomes more clingy, they will try to be around you even when you might be busy doing chores or taking care of other preparations and work around the house. More often than not, a child tagging along can offer more stress than help while you have to both do your work and be careful around them and what they’re doing. However, it doesn’t always have to be the case, as you can use this to assign them small tasks to keep them busy while helping you out at the same time. And if they get to help you finish a chore or achieve something, it will also improve their self-confidence, so everybody is winning!
Encourage playing alone
Convince your child to play alone or entertain themselves while you’re busy and praise them for it, to show that you support this kind of independent activities. Ask them to build you something from LEGOs or to make a pretty drawing of a family member or pet and appreciate their work and effort afterward, to encourage them to have the initiative to do so again whenever bored.
Don’t avoid them
Whenever you feel suffocated by their clingy behavior, avoid sneaking away from them at all costs or trying to hand them into someone else’s care, like a sibling or another family member. It might not seem like much, but it can make them feel abandoned, scared or betrayed, since in their opinion they just want to spend time with their favorite parent or need their comfort and they’re being walked out on instead, or discarded in the company of someone else.
Talk about their feelings
Instead of handing them to someone else, like mentioned above, you can talk to them about their feelings and about what might be upsetting them. Perhaps they are trying to be around you more because you haven’t had much time for them lately for whatever reasons? Sometimes you’ll be surprised by what your child will tell you regarding their feelings and what’s causing them to behave in one way or another.
Provide opportunities for them to socialize
Plan play dates with other friends of theirs from kindergarten or school to offer plenty of opportunities for them to be social and to step out of their comfort zone every now and then. Another child they’re good friends with could make them come out of their shell, even if momentarily, and they will be able to detach themselves from you for a little while. Being all caught up in a game with someone else can easily make them take their mind off of whatever might be causing them to be clingy as well, as it provides a good distraction.
With all that in mind, at the end of the day, you have to remember to give them the emotional support they need, especially now while they’re going through more emotionally challenging times. By no means should you scold their behavior, but instead look into helping them overcome their clinginess and improving their skills as well as their sense of independence and confidence.