A Parents' Guide To Dealing With Clingy Children

Stop the tears with these tips.

28/09/2016 14:19 | Updated 28 October 2016

There isn’t a parent alive who doesn’t feel caught between the guilt of going to work and not being there enough for their child.

And when your kid starts going through the inevitable clingy phase, you may feel at your wits’ end.

However, if you are struggling with an overly-dependent child, these tips could help you tackle the issue.

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Why is my child clingy?

“It is really important to work out why the child is clingy in the first place,” Dr. Helen Webberley, GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, told The Huffington Post UK.

“What are they scared of? Have they had a bad experience when you have left them before? 

“Just because they are small and easy to detach from you and give to someone else, doesn’t meant that it doesn’t hurt when you do.

“They are young and don’t understand the concept of time and place, so how can they be sure that you will actually come back?”

How can I stop my child becoming clingy before I have to leave them?

Dr. Amanda Gummer of Fundamentally Children told HuffPost UK: “Get them used to lots of different people [from the start], but ensure they have a strong attachment with you by spending lots of quality time with them - securely attached children tend to suffer less from clinginess.”

Siobhan Freegard, founder of ChannelMum, added: “Firstly, get your child used to cuddles and care from others like close family members from a young age. You don’t have to play pass the parcel with them, but letting children feel secure in the company of others is an important first step.”

Are there early warning signs that my child is becoming too clingy?

A certain degree of clingy behaviour is part of your child’s natural development, as Freegard explains: “The word always has negative connotations, but when it comes to kids, it shouldn’t. Clingy is simply your child showing how much she loves and trusts you.”

And ultimately the level of independence that each parent wants for their child will change from family to family, so what counts as ‘too clingy’ will vary too. 

“It depends largely on the parent’s approach,” said Gummer. “Some parents want their children to be really independent and others like a certain amount of ‘clinginess’, but children are all different.”

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My child cries whenever I leave them, what can I do?

First things first, you need to find out if the crying only occurs as you leave, rather than for extended periods after that, as crying is a natural reaction to you leaving.

“Find out if the crying is protracted and they are upset or distressed for more than ten minutes after you leave,” advised Gummer. 

“If it’s just a couple of minutes, it will quickly pass and you can try distraction techniques as you leave -making sure your child is engaged in an activity or has found a friend to play with.

“And be sure to tell whoever you are leaving them with about the clingy behaviour.”

However if the crying continues for an extended period you should try to set some clear rules and boundaries.

Webberley said: “Make the child feel safe by at first only leaving them for a few minutes and then coming back. Reward any time when the child allows you to be away, however short. 

“Give the person who is looking after them clear instructions. Don’t say ‘Mummy will be back soon’ when actually Mummy won’t be back until after work.”

Is being clingy detrimental to a child’s health or just frustrating for parents?

Ultimately, parents should be aware that clinginess isn’t going to be detrimental to their child’s development, it is more just frustrating and guilt-inducing for the adults involved. 

“Safe, loved, happy children always grow out of it,” said Webberley. “It is a natural fear of childhood, just like the dark, or monsters.

“Soon enough they will be teenagers and you will be worried that they stay out too long and don’t tell you where they are going.”

How can I minimise my child’s dependency on me?

“Almost paradoxically, you need to show them that you’re not going anywhere,” said Gummer. “You can start by just leaving the room and coming back.

“Make sure you say goodbye and then make a fuss of him/her and ensure he/she knows that you’re pleased to see them.

“If you do this several times a day, and then extend it by going away for a bit longer to get them used to the fact that you always come back.

“Making sure they have good relationships with a number of other adults will also help you feel less depended upon.”

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Freegard added: “It’s also vital to remember your child takes his cue from you. If you are stressed about leaving him, he’ll be fearful too. So be bright and positive and he’ll soon realise being with someone else isn’t scary and can be full of fun.”

How long will it take to get my child out of the habit of being clingy? 

Freegard said: “Go at your child’s own speed. Each child has a unique character so your path to raising a confident child who is happy to be left will be unique too.

“It is also very important not to break promises to a clingy child - say what time you’ll be there to pick them up and stick to it. Build their trust.‎ It can help to crouch down and talk to them eye to eye.”

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