In Parenting Help

How to Handle a Clingy Child


We all love and nurture our children so they have the support they need to grow into happy, healthy, functional adults. While this method works well for many children, some of them may become clingy, either as a result of their personality or due to the way they have been nurtured by one or several individuals. In the long run, there is relatively little harm to most children who fall into this category, the behavior can become troublesome in certain situations, especially when it makes it difficult for the child to be separated from a specific individual.

The Definition of Clingy

Many people have a clear idea of what the clingy meaning, but when asked, they may not be able to define clingy in words. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the clingy definition states, “tending to adhere to objects upon contact.” While this definition gives you a visual idea of what the word means, it may be difficult to relate it to the actions of children in general. The Urban Dictionary defines clingy as: “When a person continuously follows you around, becomes obsessed and/or rather annoying.” While this may be more severe than what a child actually does, the overall idea is much the same. The behavior can become annoying and it does seem as if the child almost becomes obsessed with the parent or other individual.

How Does It Happen?

In many cases, it can be difficult to identify exactly when a child becomes attached to an individual. While some level of attachment is normal in a child/adult relationship, especially between parents or grandparents and children, being too clingy can have a negative impact on a child’s life if it isn’t curbed at an early age.

Even though many cases happen naturally, sometimes a child clings to an adult he or she trusts because of something that has happened to him or her. For this reason, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open so you can determine if something bad has happened that needs to be addressed. Sometimes a visit to the doctor may be needed to rule out any psychological or physical reasons for the attitude.

A Common Stage of Development

Clinging to a parent or another loved on is actually a normal part of development in young children. This often happens during the first year of life and is otherwise known as separation anxiety. If your child seems especially clingy after you return from work for the day, chances are he or she is going through a normal process. It’s when these behaviors extend beyond the normal that additional steps may need to be taken. This is why discussing the issue with your child’s pediatrician can help you determine if it’s a normal part of development or something more.

How to Stop Being Clingy

After you answer the question, “what does clingy mean?” you can learn the various ways to teach your child how to not be clingy. Many children don’t know how to overcome these challenges on their own and require the assistance of their parents to learn how to be self-sufficient and less reliant on having a single individual there for them at all times.

  • Assign Care Tasks to Someone Else — One of the reasons children become attached to a specific parent is because that parent is responsible for a majority of their care. While this logistically works for many families, it creates a clingy situation in many cases. To help alleviate this issue, assign care tasks to someone else so the child can become used to relying on the other person too.
  • Create a Routine — Young children in particular thrive on routine and want to know what’s happening before it happens so they feel secure. One of the best ways to do this is to establish a routine. If your child knows you will leave them alone to prepare dinner and then will read them a book afterwards, they will focus more on what’s to come than on missing you.
  • Go Out Alone — When a child clings to one parent or the other, it’s easy to avoid going out because you worry about how he or she will react to a babysitter. However, if you never leave your child with someone else, you are adding to the problem. Schedule regular date nights and find a sitter you can trust to care for your child.
  • Encourage Independent Play — Clingy children often have difficulty playing alone. If your child doesn’t react well to solitary play, it’s important to encourage it. Buy him or her games or toys designed for one person and encourage them to use it. Reward your child by playing with him or her after a specified amount of independent play.
  • Don’t Expect Too Much — While you want your child to be independent, it’s important to understand young children still need their parents and other responsible adults to care for them and offer comfort. If your child is going through a difficult time, he or she should be able to rely on you for support, regardless of whether they appear to be too cling at the time.
  • Let Your Child Try — It’s easy to sweep in and resolve a problem for your child, but this teaches him or her that you are the only one who can fix issues in their lives. For this reason, it’s important to let your child work out problems while you stay at a safe distance to monitor. If your child needs assistance in the end, that’s okay, but you should allow him to try first.
  • Strengthen Your Relationship — It may seem counterintuitive, but strengthening your relationship with your child can actually help him or her become more independent. Cuddles in the morning and right before bed let your child know you are there for him or her and rewards them for their hard work.
  • Set Aside Special Time — Children love to spend time with their parents and other special people in their lives. For this reason, it’s important to set aside time to spend together doing your favorite things. If your child favors a specific relative, such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle, ask him or her for help. Special time doesn’t have to be with you. In fact, it’s more beneficial if it’s with someone else.

When Is It Too Much?

A child who is attached to you isn’t the end of the world in the long run, but it can become tiring after a period of time. If the child favors one parent over the other, it can cause a lot of added stress and make the other parent feel inadequate. In these situations, the clinging behavior may have gone too far. Talking to your child’s doctor about it can help set your mind at ease. The pediatrician may also have some ideas for helping your child overcome the challenges and become equally attached to both parents for a healthier relationship with both.

Children go through phases throughout their lives where they seem to have specific people they prefer over others. In many cases, the preferred individual is a parent or other caretaker, though it could be anyone. These preferences are likely to change over time, and there is no limit in how many times. for this reason, it’s important to be understanding of your child’s clingy behavior, especially if it’s related to a difficulty in their lives.

In the end, few individuals grow up to become clingy adults, at least not in the same way children are. With the exception of those who have an underlying health condition, clinginess will become something of the past, often during the pre-teen or teenage years. However, learning how to deal with it while they are younger will help keep parents sane.

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