We always want our children to depend on us for comfort and security. However, when your little one becomes a permanent fixture on your leg or hip, it’s okay to wish for a little more independence and a little less clinging. This kind of behavior is closely tied to a child’s temperament. When you’re at a playground, you’ll notice some toddlers are fearless social butterflies, while others would prefer to hold onto a parent like a life preserver. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with children who are more introverted and slow-to-warm-up. One temperament is not preferable or more advanced than the other. Kids are delightfully unique and each temperament type will shine in various situations.
That said, what do you do when your toddler gets a little too clingy? Here are a few strategies that can help.
Strategies to Help Curb Your Toddler’s Clinging
Give her opportunities to show autonomy. A boost in self-confidence can do wonders for a toddler who tends to cling. At home, offer her a chance to build confidence by showing that she can do things on her own (like pick up her toys, choose an outfit, or help with chores). Soon you may see her start to carry that confidence into other environments, resulting in less need to cling.
Praise her when she shows signs of independence. Remember to be praise her efforts when she completes a task on her own. Sometimes toddlers need to be reminded that it’s a big deal when they put on their socks, pick up their rooms, or remember to wash their hands all by themselves. “Wow, look at this clean room! You picked up all your toys without any help! Thank you!” You want to send the message that she doesn’t necessarily need supervision for every activity and she’s capable of doing certain things on her own.
Have concrete routines. Making her life more predictable can give her a stronger sense of control. Fear of the unknown can definitely increase clingy behavior, so it’s important to stick to routines and remind her of what’s happening next. Some parents will utilize calendars with visual aids (images to represent mealtimes, nap times, and play times) to help their toddlers anticipate the next activity. “We’re going to have a snack first, then we’re going to pick up groceries, then we’re going to the playground to see your friends.”
Try one-on-one playdates. Remember that big groups can appear chaotic and confusing for her when she’s trying to make sense of her environment. A playdate with one other toddler can be more welcoming for an introverted child.
Encourage parallel play, but don’t force it. Parallel play is age-appropriate for toddlers, and involves children playing alongside each other, but not necessarily with each other. While she may not be “socializing” in a conventional way, she’s still creating space between her and you, and exploring her environment on her own. However, it’s important to let parallel play happen organically. Even forcing her to play next to a friend may feel daunting.
Play with her. Instead of sitting on the sidelines while she clings, join in yourself. You’re her source of comfort, so if you’re playing too, she may feel comfortable slowly letting go. Once you notice that she’s starting to enjoy herself, you can gradually pull back and give her space.
If she’s starting a childcare program, prepare her. Work with your chosen childcare program to ease her into being away from you. Many programs offer a “phase-in” approach, which allows children to gradually get used to their new environment with your help. You can also prepare her for being away from you through role-play games (our BabySparks program has fun ideas for this).
Remember that in general, there’s nothing wrong with a little clinging. It’s a sign that your child trusts you and feels secure by your side. She needs this safe place so she can observe and assess the situation, which isn’t a bad thing. With a little support, patience, and some confidence-boosting exercises, you can start seeing more independence and less clinging!