7 Tips for Managing a Clingy Toddler

Have a toddler who won't leave your side? Here's how to manage.

Some kids tend to stick by their parents more than others, but many toddlers go through periods when they become clingier, which – good news – is totally normal. In fact, research suggests that a child's clingy behavior toward mom and dad is actually a good sign; it shows they trust their parents and think of them as their home base, which is what parents want, right?  

However, extremely clingy behavior can be frustrating for mom and dad. Parenting a young is already an intense experience, but managing a toddler who won’t leave your side without a meltdown is even harder. Suddenly everyday interactions – like daycare drop offs – that used to be easy, are fraught with anxiety.

Here are a few ways to manage a toddler's clingy behavior.

Identify the source.

clingy toddler
PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa.

Sure, toddler clinginess can happen without rhyme or reason, but if the behavior comes out of left field, you can probably identify the reason. 

The biggest culprit? Transitions. And while there are obvious ones -- like a new sibling arriving from the hospital or a move to a new home -- keep in mind that transitions that seem small to you might be big to a toddler. 

Common transitions that lead to newfound clinginess include: changing daycares or schools, having a stay-at-home parent head back to work (even if it’s just part time), or joining a new playgroup or activity. A shift in routine due to illness or travel can also can cause a toddler to stick to parents like glue. 

In addition, traumatic experiences, like a thunderstorm, fireworks or having a scary run-in with the neighbor's dog, could also be a contributing factor. Whatever it is, identifying the source will help you determine how to manage your toddler's behavior. 

Talk to your toddler.

Once you've identified the source of the clingy behavior, it's important to talk to your toddler about it. Don't dismiss your child's feelings or fears -- show compassion. Make sure they know it's OK to be scared and need mom and dad. Offer strategies to help them through their feelings. For example, if your child is afraid to be left at a new daycare, talk them through the day's schedule and tell them exactly when they can expect you to return. 

Stick to routines.

When in doubt, stick to a toddler's routine as much as possible. In other words, if a toddler's world has shifted, make sure everything else is as predictable as possible. Particularly with big life changes, it will help ease your little one's feelings of anxiety to know that many things are staying the same. 

Be responsive.

Because a toddler suddenly becoming a cling monster is actually a sign of a healthy relationship, it’s important not to punish or strongly discourage the behavior. This can be tough for parents who are used to more independent children, but do your best to indulge clingy behaviors that aren't too over-the-top, while still setting firm boundaries. 

Set boundaries.

While you definitely want your toddler to know that it's OK to need mom and dad, to be anxious about changes and to be scared when venturing into new situations, you also need to make sure that you set boundaries. Just make sure you tell your toddler what the boundary is. Sometimes parents find it easier to "sneak out" when dropping a clingy child at daycare. Unfortunately, this can actually lead to clingier behavior because now the situation has become more unpredictable for your little one. Try setting a timer for five minutes, and let him know it's time for mom or dad to go when the timer goes off. There may be tears, but it won't be a surprise. 

Schedule one-on-one time.

When a toddler becomes clingy, one of the best things you can do is spend some one-on-one time with them. While it doesn’t need to be for hours – even 20 to 30 minutes can make a difference – it’s important to put your phone away, turn off the TV, and focus all of your attention on your toddler. Put together puzzles, build towers, play games and show your toddler that mommy and daddy are available to her.

Praise your toddler’s independence.

As your toddler's clingy behavior subsides (and it will!), make an effort to praise any steps your child takes toward independent behavior, but don't push him. Never make fun of his fears or feelings, and make sure your child knows that he is loved unconditionally. 

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