How Can I Stop My Child From Being Too Clingy
Many parents complain about finding it hard to deal with clingy kids, whether it’s a crying baby everytime the parent is out of sight, a toddler who clings to their parents at social occasions or a primary school child who stops the parents from going out to dinner without them.
“Clinginess” refers to a kid who has a strong reaction towards the idea of being separated from their parents.
Children exhibit clingy behaviour up to late primary school. Infants cry to let their parents know that they don’t like to be separated. Toddlers or older children may have a total meltdown if their parent leaves them.
In most cases, these reactions are perfectly normal. Parents can help their children through periods of clinginess by acknowledging and accepting the feelings that come with this behaviour.
Why do children get clingy?
There are two reasons why a child becomes clingy. One is separation anxiety and the other is stranger anxiety. The fear of being away from their parents and being surrounded by people they don’t know can result in a clingy child.
Sometimes children express the strong desire for their parent to stay through clingy behaviour.
Children are socially and biologically programmed to form strong attachments with their parents. Parents usually represent a safe, loving base from which children can explore the world and develop their self esteem.
Clingy behaviour may increase at certain times of development as children explore their new found independence, such as when they start to walk, or during other periods of change such as starting preschool, kindergarten or primary school.
Clingy behaviour decreases as children get older but can still be present for primary-school-aged children.
A child’s level of clinginess, and the way it is expressed, may be affected by:
The child’s temperament: Some children are socially shy or introverted, others are more outgoing.
Major changes in the child’s life. For example the birth of a new sibling or moving house or starting a new school. It is normal when children become more clingy at these situations, because they are getting used to change.
Other family factors such as divorce and parent separation, stressed-out parents or parents having mental health problems. Children are very sensitive to their parent’s reactions, so if a parent is going through a hard time the child may become more clingy or show other types of behaviours.
How can you help your child?
Be a safe base
A lot of kids show clinginess in new situations or with new people. This in itself has an advantage because the child is less likely to run off by themselves in possible dangerous situations.
But it’s also important for children to learn to separate from their parents and gain confidence in their own abilities.
Parents can help children get used to a new situation by supporting them through it. For example, if a child is starting at a new childcare centre, it may help for the parent to spend some time there with their child, so the child can become accustomed to the new environment with their trusted parent close by.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings
Parents need to know that ignoring a child’s feelings will not make the problem go away, because the kid is expressing their feelings through being clingy.
Instead, research shows it’s important to acknowledge and normalise children’s feelings.
Some parents are afraid that if they talk about their child’s feelings the situation will get worse. That’s not the case. Usually when you talk to your child about their feelings, it will help them to let go of those feelings and your child will be able to regulate their emotions.
Parents need to accept a tantrum at separation or a clingy behaviour at a social gathering until the child adjusts and take their time to let go of such feelings.
Model calm confidence
Children look at their parents as important role models of how to react to particular situations. The method of a parent’s response to a child’s clingy behaviour will shape a child’s feeling about a certain situation.
When parents react with a high level of concern towards the child’s clinginess at the start of primary school, it automatically affects a child’s thinking. The child may start to think that the new environment is unsafe. But when the parent shows calm confidence in their child’s abo;otu to cope with the new situation, the child will feel comfortable too.
For example, if a child is clingy when they start primary school and their parent reacts with a high level of concern and anxiety, the child may be unsure of whether the new environment is safe. But if the parent demonstrates calm confidence in their child, that he or she will cope with separation and/or the new situation, the child is more likely to feel comfortable too.
Discuss the plan in advance
Humans are afraid of the unknown, so talking to children about an upcoming change or feared situation will help them cope with it.
For instance, before going to the doctor, it would help to talk about how you’ll prepare, what might happen when you arrive and what might happen on the visit.
Even when talking about future events, it’s important to acknowledge feelings and model calm confidence.
But what if my child is just too clingy?
There are a few factors to consider when making a judgment about whether a child’s clingy behaviour is of concern.
First consider the facts such as is the child coping with a new change, a new environment or new people? Some children may take weeks or months to adapt to new situations. So you need to provide the child with a little extra support to get them through that situation.
Second, consider the intensity of the behaviour. Is the clingy behaviour interfering with the child’s regular life? For instance, is it interfering with their ability to go to kindergarten or school, or causing your child (and the parents) considerable upset and stress?
Third, consider the time frame. If the behaviour is occurring daily and lasting more than four weeks, and is interfering with the child’s life, it may be helpful to consult with a professional such as a GP, paediatrician, psychologist, or school counsellor.