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A clingy toddler: How do I get my child to interact with other people?

By September 30, 2009 - 7:48pm
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This is the problem I have a 19th month old baby girl. She is very clingy she will not stay with anyone outside of the sitter. My husband and I have tried eveything to get her from being so clingy. I dont know what to do I love my child but I really need some time to myself. She screams bloody murder if I try to leave her with anyone including family. I am desprate at my wits end. I dont know how to give my child that independence that she needs so that she will not cling to me so much. So if anyone has advice on how to deal with this please help me!!!!! I cant even take a shower without her in the bathroom with me or even go to the restroom alone.

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Dear unhappyinbrookland

I'm right there with you, sister, with the clingy kid! All my three are very clingy, in general but our youngest, who just turned 3, is very, very attached. She was well into being two years old before she stopped throwing herself against the bathroom door in agony, because she couldn't see me for 30 seconds.

Like your child, she has been like this since the beginning. Her pediatrician even said when she was three MONTHS old, that her eyes followed my voice and as early as 6 weeks old, my husband would hold her and I'd walk to various corners of the room and talk and everytime she tried to strain to look at me. She held her arms out in emotional pain for me when I wasn't holding her. She loves her Daddy but within a couple of minutes, she wanted to be back in my arms again. It was exhausting.

Diane has given you some great advice and links. As she said, start slowly. I know you have lost your job, but is there any way you can leave her with the sitter, even two hours a week? This will keep up the momentum of being away from Mom.

And as Diane also said, this is a phase. She may always be pretty attached to you and this is a good thing. But she won't be howling forever, like she is now. That much I promise you.

She is very young but you will ultimately have to leave her. Do it with family. Always say goodbye (never sneak away) but keep the goodbye loving and fast. Don't keep coming back for a last hug or kiss as it feels like you are doing the right thing but in the end, it hurts her more than it helps her. If she cries, then she cries. She is safe and well with family and start off with short trips. Go the the store and be back within 30 minutes. As the weeks go by, stretch to out to an hour, then two hours.

If you get another job soon, you'll be gone all day so start this now and it won't come as such a shock to her. Always reassure her that you will be back - and within a few times she'll see that you DO come back!

Since you lost your job, let's talk about free stuff you can do. Do you have a mall near you? They often have free, open play areas with secured play structures. Take her there (mid morning, don't do weekends when it's noisy and insane!) and let her play. She doesn't have to play with other kids - children at her age are still generally solitary players so just allow her to walk and run around. If she clings to you, walk with her and then walk back and sit down. You may have to do that over and over. Don't automatically shadow her - she needs to learn that you are only 12-15 feet away and it's ok for her to play by herself. She'll get used to other kids being around her.

Libraries and large chain bookstores (like Borders) have free story telling and crafts for toddlers. Go there twice a week. She'll learn by osmosis.

I take our kids to Toys R Us in the winter. They have lots of displays that allow kids to play - do it - and it's free!

Craft stores like Joanne Fabrics and Michaels have free art classes for kids.

And there is always the park - also free and pack a picnic. My kids and I have a picnic at the park once a week.

All of this will get her socialized more. As I said, don't expect interaction with lots of other kids but what you are doing is exposing her slowly, to small crowds, to other children, to noises and activities. Staying home with her is not healthy for her and it's not good for you either! Of course you love your daughter but a happy kid has a happy mom. Getting out and having adult talk (even with kids around) is crucial.

Meetup.com has parent playdates on an almost daily basis. Log on to www.meetup.com and find your town. You'll be playdates everywhere. Also try www.momslikeme.com.

Your daughter has a much better chance of enjoying being around others if you take her out everyday!

I know just how you feel about needing time to yourself. Everyone tells you how great it is that your child loves you so much and is so connected to you and it's true - it's wonderful. The mother-child bond is indescribable! But what nobody talks about is the stress and frustration - and lonliness - of being a near-prisoner to your child. Because when all the cuteness fades - it becomes clear that a mother really, really needs time away from her kids in order to be a great mom. Sometimes we convince ourselves that the fact that we're never, ever away from our kids is a good thing. I felt that way for a long time and now I realize I am a happier person when I have a few hours away from my kids every week. A few hours is all it takes. And it will show your kids that they can function without you for a few hours, that you will always come back and that you are more relaxed and happy when you have a little downtime. Don't ever feel bad that having a clingy child is wonderful and very frustrating - because it's both. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never had a clingy child. Their screaming and panic is very hard to deal with. It's kind of like the ultimate backhanded compliment!

She may cry when you first do this. In fact, she probably will. It's ok. Kids cry for any number of reasons - from seeing their Mom leave to the fact that their toy is three feet from them and they want you to get it for them, instead of moving themselves! A 19 month old cannot use language to express herself so she cries. It's normal and ok. The first week is hard but you have to let her express herself (by crying) and it will fade out in time. It's a difficult stage that you both will go through but it's only a few hours a week and there won't be lasting trauma!

Good luck - tell us how you get along and if you need to talk more, I'm here. I really feel your frustrations, I remember being in tears over the intense clingyness of all my kids. It's a part of parenting, and childhood, that we all go through. Unless it gets pathological, there is nothing wrong with a clingy child. It's a normal and healthy function of childhood. But don't become a prisoner of it, or you will end up unhappy and resentful. You are human, not superhuman! Be strong and begin the separation process now so that it doesn't end up being a huge issue when school starts. And make sure your husband is with you every step of the way - it'll take teamwork.

I wish you the best!

October 2, 2009 - 11:42am

Thanks for your comments diane, My little one has been like this every since she was a baby. She used to cry when she went to the babysitter in the begining. Now she does not go to the babysitter anymore since I lost my job so it has gotten worst. She was getting along with the sitter fine before I lost my job. But now she is home with me everyday so I am all she enteracts with outside of my husband. Sometimes I just feel like she will never grow out of it and I will never be able to have me time again. Dont get me wrong I love my daughter and I would not give her up for anything in the world. But I crave for some adult time with friends.

October 2, 2009 - 9:58am

Hi, Unhappy in Brooklyn. Thank you for your question!

First, I think you should feel great that your little girl will stay with the sitter. She clearly can adjust to other people given time and patience. So you've done a good job there.

Second, many many toddlers go through an incredibly clingy stage. Has she always been this way, or is it something you have noticed more in the last few months? (Especially since she has learned to walk?)

Here is some great information for you from parenthood.com:

"The late Dr. Benjamin Spock’s venerable classic Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care points out that separation anxiety, of which clingyness is a part, is completely normal in 1- to 3-year-olds. Children’s desire to stay close to their parents once they learn to walk is an instinct probably related to the young of other species, such as sheep and goats, who follow closely after their mothers and bleat when they get separated. Unlike little lambs or kids (of the goat variety), who walk right after they’re born, human children don’t learn to walk until around 1 year old. But both kinds of young ones, once they begin to “toddle,” need the “trailing-after-mom (or dad)” instinct to protect them from getting lost or harmed.

"Dr. Kyle Pruett, a clinical psychiatrist at Yale’s Child Study Center and author of Me, Myself and I: How Children Build Their Sense of Self: 18 to 36 Months, says that clingyness is actually a toddler’s natural response to his or her primary “assignment” – becoming autonomous. Even at the tender ages of 1, 2 and 3, children want to be independent, and their entire childhood will be about making that happen – but it’s a very gradual process and it can be scary. Clinging on to Mom or Dad at certain moments is an attempt to downsize that scariness.

“It’s really important for parents to understand that clinging is a toddler’s course-correction, as if he’s saying ‘I’ve gone too far, I need my mommy, I need my daddy. I’m scared,’” Pruett explains. “It’s a response to this normal process of becoming his own person.”

Here's that link:


Here's another mom writing about the same thing you're experiencing:


Here are some tips on how to deal with separation anxiety from the What to Expect When You're Expecting website:

" • Start small. Get him used to the idea of you leaving by disappearing behind a door for a moment ("I'm back!"), then into another room for a couple of minutes ("Here I am!"), and finally leaving the house for (gradually) longer periods of time.
• Watch your body language. That smart little creature can detect anxiety or ambivalence through your facial expressions, movements, and tone of voice. (So no furrowed brows or nervous toe-tapping, please.)
• Exude the three c's: calm, confidence, and caring. If junior cries, don't scold, tease, and get annoyed. (Imagining yourself in his tiny shoes may help you keep your cool.) Tell him you understand how he feels. ("I know you want me to stay, but I'll be back soon. I love you.") Then make a quick exit.
• Never sneak out. It'll only make your child feel more anxious the next time you need to separate. Instead, create a "leaving ritual" (e.g., a parting phrase like "See you later, alligator," five kisses on each cheek, or an exchange of wacky waves from the window).
• Provide a mommy-reminder. Some kids like having a photo or a hand-drawn picture of your smiling face, or some other personal memento (like your glove or sock)."

There are more tips here:


and here:


The good news? Separation anxiety often peaks right around 18 months. Your baby girl has learned that you are a separate person from her, and she's trying her best to not lose her identification with you even as she is becoming more independent. So you may be dealing with the worst of it now. It typically fades by about age 3. Here's a bit more encouragement:


You're totally not alone in this. Hang in there, and maybe we'll get some other moms to relate their experiences with a clingy toddler as well.

October 2, 2009 - 8:54am
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