Help! My Toddler is so Clingy.

Help! My Toddler is so Clingy.

Some days  it can feel like toddlers  wake up, walk by a giant container of glue and decide to stick themselves right onto us for the rest of the day.  On these days, to manage even just a quick dash to the bathroom alone can be a difficult sometimes tear filled process.clingy toddler with mom

Let’s be honest, no matter how much we love and enjoy our children, sometimes a mama has got to have a break.  Over the years, all three of my children had their clingy days, even clingy phases that lasted weeks if not months.  Coping with the clinginess in a positive and peaceful way although at times, a bit time consuming, really is possible.

Here are 10 ideas to prevent and get through the clingiest of times:

1. Start every day with snuggles and smiles: Even if you need to get dressed, or prep breakfast and your child wakes later than you, once your child is awake, choose a comfy spot to sit with your sleepy tot for just a few minutes. Ensuring a positive connection first thing in the morning really helps to build a connection and trust and reduce uncertainty in toddlers.

2. Involve your tot: Having tasks your toddler can do around the house that relate to what you need to do can go a long way in keeping your hands free and your toddler feeling connected, involved and important. Check out this list for ideas.

3. Set a routine: Toddlers crave predictability and routine. When your toddler knows that after breakfast there will be time to wash dishes followed by a story, followed by playtime, followed by a trip to the grocery store and so on they can start to predict their day and it reduces any possible fear of the unknown.

4. Communicate changes: It’s ok to be flexible with the routine or to change plans, just try to keep your toddlers perspective in mind too. Avoid sweeping them up abruptly and instead try to communicate changes clearly and prepare for transitions gently.

5. Use a carrier: Soft carrier, backpack style and hip carriers are a wonderful way to have your toddler nearby, feeling secure and still get things done.

6.Encourage independent play: Helping your toddler learn to play independently is a gift to both parents and child. The more you discover which activities really captivate your child’s interest, the more they will be inclined to play alone.  This post has lots of simple and fun ideas toddlers really enjoy.

7. Special time: Create a habit of setting aside time for your toddler throughout the day where you disconnect from the TV, web, cell phone and really just connect with your toddler. It could be breastfeeding followed by a story or building with blocks together for twenty minutes. Stay present, enjoy your toddler’s discoveries and share in the joy uninterrupted – truly uninterrupted.

8. Investigate underlying causes: Sometimes toddlers become extra clingy when they are getting sick, have a bit of constipation, are learning to master a new skill such as balancing, new words, new concepts. Try to tune into your toddler, it may be a matter simply providing lots of extra comfort and time together until it passes or you may need a visit to a health professional.

9. Change locations: Sometimes being home doing the same things over and over can lead to a bit of boredom. Why not explore the park, try the swings, visit a farm to look at animals, or take a neighborhood stroll. The change of scenario can be beneficial to everyone!

10. Adjust your expectations: Sometimes the need to get the house cleaned, errands done, meals cooked etc has a way of working on us that translates into being rushed, anxious and possibly less than patient.  Slow down, focus on your toddler and let the dishes sit for a while longer.  You do not get a do-over with your toddler, the days of must have hour-long cuddles to prevent tears will eventually phase away.

Clinginess is not a sign you have spoiled your child or that they will never be independent. in fact most clingy toddlers when reassured, loved and cared for in this stage blossom into fearless, independent, resilient and happy preschoolers.

Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

22 Responses to Help! My Toddler is so Clingy.

  1. My 18 month old son has become so clingy that I find some days I am basically just reading, playing, singing dancing and cuddling until he goes to bed. This blog has been an excellent source of information on dealing with it although one pervasive problem that I have with the clingy behaviour is that he has started to forcefully reject his daddy – if I am carrying him and dad comes over to ask for a cuddle he will lean away or push him away saying “no”. My husband will sometimes just take him and it all ends in tears and screaming to get back into my arms “cuddle mummy” etc. very unpleasant and I feel guilty that dad is being rejected on a daily basis. Any advice?

  2. Hi Patricia,
    Children sometimes will go through a phase of preferring one parent over another, but this preference doesnt mean more love but rather just a stronger pull to be together. I know it can be tough for the other parent to watch, or maybe the parent that is the preferred one in that moment feels guilty, perhaps overwhelmed, in need of a break even! At 18 months there isn’t a lot to do in the short term that will force a change, but there are things that can be done to encourage more balance. One thing is to avoid language that confirms those thoughts like “mama’s boy” and “oh you just prefer mama” or “well I guess only mama will do” or “yeah, daddy has no idea right?” instead if your child is refusing to go with daddy but it has to be like that you can empathize and encourage for example: “Daddy and you can figure this out, I will be back in a bit and you can tell me what you did!” and then really leave them to it. The back and forth, or looking sorry or sad is confusing and confirms that doubt. Leave with confidence and trust daddy to figure it out!! Also finding things that can be just daddy’s job helps. If daddy can create a ritual, maybe a story or a game that they play together, starting at a time when everyone is relaxed, maybe mom is close by but does not interfere…this way they get to create that special little moment together. Sometimes children will cry about having to be with another parent or caregiver but with patience that parent can help them realize, “uhm…actually I’m ok and safe with you too! Hope that helps!!

  3. hi my name is candace and my 3 yr old son and 2 yr old daughter fight for my attention and mine alone they wont let anyone else help me out with them like putting for naps or bedtime baths eating or anything…i dont know what to do because i also have a 5 month old daughter and i cant grow five arms and do everything for them all at once …my mom and boyfriend try to help me but they just wont let anyone in…what do i do???

  4. Hi Candace,
    In what ways do you think your 3yr old and 2 yr old could build some connection with your mom and boyfriend? Are they spending time playing together and enjoying each other, building a relationship, with blocks, puzzles, story time etc.. this can help a lot when it comes time for them to help out with other things like bathing and bath time because they will feel more at ease together. Also can you try to make 10-15 minutes a day to spend with each child, when baby is napping for example to refill your kids needs for undivided attention from mom? Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. hi, we have a 5 years old boy and 1 year old twin girls. one of the twins, recently has become very clingy to either mom or dad, as long as we are carrying her and walking around she is fine, even when we sit on the floor or sofa with her on the lap, she starts to cry, and shows us she wants us to carry her, we are stumped, really not able to do anything, my wife has help in the day, and still not able to eat drink or go to the bathroom or even change after waking up, please help, we are getting depressed…

  6. Mo, this sounds like a challenging situation for your family. Sometimes when children are going through learning or developmental milestones they may feel a need to be closer to a parent. Many children also feel comfort from moving around and being carried, however it is important for the balance and well-being of your family that everyone have a chance to eat well, rest and go to the restroom. Since you mention this has become difficult and that your child is in distress often, it might help your family to contact your pediatrician or health provider for assistance.

  7. So I have an almost 3 yr old. I recently got into a new relationship. My son was fine in the beginning, but now seems to not like him. I dont handle disipline very well, as I like to cuddle and be with my son. He likes to follow me around and well my bf seems to be against it. When my son is told to do something by my bf he will come to me and cry. if my bf says he cant follow me, he cries. So In return he gets told by my bf to go to his room till hes done. My bf seems to put his foot down when it comes to disipline. He wontever hit him, mainly just puts him in his room and takes toys away when he wont listen. I need help. Why is he being so clingy and whinny now. What can we or even myself do to make the days go by better.

  8. Hi Stacie, imagine being in your sons shoes for a moment, his world has been changed quite a bit, how would you feel if someone you don’t really know that well suddenly started giving you orders and keeping you away from the person you love the most when you felt scared and upset? If you got angry and your boyfriend took away your purse, car keys or phone and told you can have it when you are being “good” I bet you would feel very mad at him!? At age 3 children are learning to be independent but they also need a lot of attention, reassurance and love, they want to be able to make decisions and choices, as parents we need to give them the right boundaries to make those choices in. While it’s important for you to spend time with your boyfriend, your son really needs his mom for guidance, love and attention, each and every day, your son has relied on you from birth for guidance, not your boyfriend. While you can help your child and boyfriend bond, it takes time to build trust and a real relationship, I would encourage you take time to do things one on one with just your son, give him the attention he needs, play games, read together, go to the park, and then also do these same activities with your boyfriend and your son. Discipline that works comes from trust and mutual respect. If your son hits, hold his hand, look him in the eyes and let him know hitting hurts, empathize with his feelings “you are angry” or “i think you are mad” and then let him know what he can do “you may not hit, but you may tell me you are mad, I will listen to you.”

  9. Hi! My son will be 4 next month. Just this past weekend he began acting super clingy and saying he is scared of everything. Wants the doors closed and windows closed and he must be within 6inches of one of us at all times… he constantly wants to just snuggle… not that we have a problem with that but there are times when other daily routines need to be completed. He has had no problem in the mornings as of yet either… . It just seems to be the evenings…and he goes to bed just fine… i just dont know what to do! I want my awesome carefree tough guy back! Please say its a phase

  10. Tracy, it’s not unusual for children to go through a more “worried” or “anxious” phase. Around four, children still haven’t quite grasped what is real and what is imagination. Something like a tv show or a story book line can bring on real worries. Validating and talking about what is going on can be helpful. More helpful than sayins “it’s nothing…you are safe” it’s more helpful to ask questions like “what do you suppose is going to happen if the window stays open?” and allowing them to talk about the worries. This can lead to tears and more clingyness at first- AND it’s the more likely path to allowing the phase to pass. If you remain calm and willing to listen “So, if we leave the window open…you think…..will happen…did I get that right? So what if I told you I believe you are worried about this and that we can probably find a good solution?” Engaging with the worry is better than asking them to ignore the worry. Ignoring it makes it grow bigger! I hope that helps!

  11. Hi. I have a 2.5 year old (only child) girl that has ALWAYS been clingy to me. I am kind of wondering if it’s unhealthy, only because I literally can’t leave the house without her! Father gets time with her but it doesn’t seem like it is very long and she runs after me wondering where I am. She has never stayed anywhere over night and she has never been left with anyone else in a long time. She flips out when I even talk about going somewhere 🙁 I’m so worried about putting her in preschool because I know I can’t handle the fact that she will be left there without me! I was told we need to go to counseling but I’m trying to figure out something else for now. Maybe leave her a short period at a time and keep doing it? Please help. thanks!

  12. Hi Michelle,

    I think the key here for you is what you said here: “I know I can’t handle the fact that she will be left there without me!” It might be helpful for you to talk to someone you trust, or to a parenting coach or counselor about your fears and worries of leaving your daughter. Children benefit greatly from having a strong bond with their mother, but also benefit very much from learning to trust and enjoy the company of their dad and other caregivers. You can start gradually, and you must trust your decision and KNOW that the person that is caring for your daughter in your absence will be attentive and capable. IF the parent trusts the process, so will the child. Clearly you care so very much bout your child and my best guess is that you would like to be able to leave her but feel uncertain how to do it. This isn’t unusual for mothers to feel such a strong bond to their child, but if it’s making you so anxious and her as well, then of course working through this, to a new stage where leaving doesn’t feel so hard is likely to be more helpful to both of you than not changing anything. No matter where you go, your child will always be with you in your heart. Some separation anxiety is perfectly normal from 8 months to two years, but children are truly capable and benefit from spending time with just dad or a trusted caregiver! “She flips out when I even talk about going somewhere” It’s really important to believe a child is capable of feeling dissapointed, feeling it and then getting through that feeling to the other side and thinking “oh ok, that was tough, but I got through it ok”. This maters because you will not be able to prevent every sadness – so help her understand that you will go and to trust you will come back! I hope this helps you.

  13. Help Please!! I have an 8 year old step son whom I have been involved with since he was 4.He lives with his mom full time and me and his dad about 40% of the time. Within the last 8-10 months (maybe longer), He has been excessively clingy with me. He needs to constantly be in the same room as me, touching me (arm around me or lightly scratching my back). When we plan for kids to be over for him to play with, he wont play with them unless I am playing too. If I leave the house to chit chat with adults he follows me outside to see when im coming back in or check on me to make sure im coming back in every 10 or so min. He is also SUPER emotional with me. Where as a simple comment like ok, i’m going to finish this so go do “this”. or even tell him to stop talking during the movie he cries and is super hurt. Then lashes and says im being rude etc. He does not do this with his dad AT ALL. acts like a normal kid with him and if im not home is dependant and not emotional. I am not entirely sure on his situation with his Mom and her house, as far as my husband (his dad) has told me, she claims to be busy and seems to not interact with him at all. I am wondering if he is trying to get his mom needs from me? I understand I am probably not acting that sweet or affectionate as I am generally not an affectionate person at all but I am getting very overwhelmed and not sure how to go about this. Please give me some advice!!!

  14. Hi Lindsay, separations and blending families can be challenging for all involved. Often children have a lot of emotional hurt stored up and worries and fears they don’t quite know how to express. Adults can also need time to adjust to a new situation…so In such instances where families are coming together it’s often best to find some personalized help from a trusted counselor, coach or similar. Bonding and relationship are at the core of having a healthy and working dynamic in the family – 10 months is a long time to be dealing with something that may be bothersome or difficult. Spending time together, trying to build your relationship certainly may be helpful, but to truly understand this situation best you may want to reach out for some personalized help. Perhaps the school has a counselor that could point you in the right direction. Best wishes.

  15. Hi Patricia. I know this is an old post but my 20 month old is going through this very phase since last two months. She is super clingy, doesnt warm up easily to strangers, whines to the point of driving me crazy, doesnt play alone and now she prefers me over her dad. She always took bath with dadda but now she screaaaams her kungs out fkr me. I cannot seem to get anything done. Its driving me insane. I actually cry everyday. I wanted to ask you, has your kid outgrown this phase? How long did it last? How did you survive & cope this phase?

  16. Hi, I have a 2.6 year old who was very clingy since she was 16 months old to around 2 years of age. She then became incredibly independent, would play on her own in her room, would stay overnight with her grannies, would play with kids her age etc. She showed some resistance in preschool but then settled fine with some rough days here and there.
    Then during her mid-term vacation, we went to her my in-laws’ place which she LOVES and she was very happy there. But suddenly as if some switch flipped, she had a complete personality turn-around and became SUPER clingy to me, would follow me around all day, wouldn’t go to another room alone and was generally very whiny. I thought of it as developmental regression but it got worse after we came back and she joined school. She would cry for half an hour in school, would literally block my way when I walked out of door for work (I have been going to work since she was 18 month old and she never had an issue with letting me go). She became veryyyy whiny with me, would ask me to carry her, cuddle her, call her baby (I am not pregnant but during vacation we visited a cousin who recently had a baby and my LO seemed to be fascinated with the baby), feed her, etc. At the same time, she willingly went to playdates in the neighbourhood on her own, would suddenly go out with dad for HOURS without me. Its like she has been oscillating between being dependent and wanting to be independent constantly.

    Since last week, her clinginess has been on a lesser side (touchwood!). She doesnt cry a lot in school but drop-offs are ALWAYS tearful. She goes to daycare after school and there in the evening she starts asking for me. Is this natural regression or something more? I am worried a lot.

  17. Are you still blogging? I have a toddler (18 months) that cries a lot and is very clingy. I can’t go to the bathroom, get dressed, cook, or clean without loud protests. The other day I had to put him in the carrier just to get the kitchen clean. Now he’s waking up at night and demanding to sleep on my chest…next to me is not close enough. Any tips would be appreciated. Thank you

  18. Hi Shawnna,

    “Are you still blogging?” — I’ve been busy in our online classroom and a full coaching schedule but there will be new articles coming to the blog soon 🙂

    As for the crying and clingy behavior – this is quite normal and you have a few things that might be happening. It could be a sickness that is starting, many tots get extra clingy when they don’t feel so well, OR it could just be a phase of development. If all of our toddlers needs are met (like food, rest, play and time with you) it’s OKAY to calmly let him know you will be separating for a brief moment like going to the bathroom. Just make sure he is in a safe space to be left during that time. You can briefly explain clearly what you need to do and then trust your child to be OKAY – “I am going to the restroom and I will be right back” and then really DO come right back. These short, brief separations, even if he cries are not harming your son. You don’t have to overly appease the tears either, just calmly return and say “I’m back.” The more you practice this the better. If you keep appeasing and distracting those tears or pleading him to “just don’t cry” you may make the clingy worse!! The important thing is that you are calm and that the separations are very brief, when you return make eye contact and hug your son so he knows you are back. Does that help you?

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