Development Physical & Emotional

Why Is My Toddler So Clingy? (5 Causes & What To Do About It)

Have you got a clingy toddler who wants to be held all the time?

Is your son or daughter whiny and complains whenever they aren’t glued to you side or being held?

Dealing with a clingy toddler can be exhausting for parents, especially for mom who is typically the “chosen one” during this period.

In this post we examine why your little one is so clingy and attached to you at the moment.

And perhaps even more importantly, what you can do right now to improve things.

Let’s jump right in.

5 Reasons Why Your Child Is Clingy & Whiny

1. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is common in young children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years.

Separation anxiety is different from the normal feelings children have when they don’t want a parent to leave.

Essentially it’s a sign your baby realizes how dependent they are on the people who care for them (i.e. mom, dad, grandparents or other carers), and that they don’t feel particularly safe unless you are with them.

Separation anxiety is a completely normal part of your child’s development, and something that they will typically outgrow.

For most children, this anxiety of being away from their parents passes without the need for any medical attention, although it’s worth stressing that if you have concerns it’s best to speak with your doctor.

woman hugging boy on her lap

2. Toddler Regression

When your child goes through a period of regression it’s exactly what it sounds like – they go “backwards” and act in a younger or needier way.

Thankfully for us parents, the regression is temporary and it’s somewhat reassuring to know it’s a common part of childhood development.

What’s perhaps even more reassuring is that some children may regress just before they are about to take a big leap forward, or they go through some regression just after the have made a leap forward.

Either way, regression can be seen as a positive sign, although it does of course come with side effects, most notably of course the clinginess that you’re probably experiencing with your toddler right now.

3. Significant Life Changes

Regression and clinginess are also very common when a child has to adjust to a new situation, for example becoming an older sibling or going to daycare for the first time.

Major life changes can also result in stress and greater separation anxiety, which can be caused by the scenarios above as well as by being separated from a parent, moving home or to a new town, or because of tension at home.

4. Fear Of The Unknown

Another reason for your child’s clinginess could be down to them not understanding things that are going on in their life.

Some of these things might be a natural part of development, such as developing a fear of the dark, which might result in your toddler becoming more clingy all of a sudden or out of the blue.

Maybe they’ve recently started potty training, and are afraid of the process.

Or perhaps it’s something else, such as dropping their nap or another major routine change that’s left them confused.

Remember that to a toddler, typically one of the only things that remains consistent in their ever-changing early years is the presence of their parents or primary caregivers.

So when something significant changes or they become scared or confused, it’s only natural that they’ll want to be around you and be held by you more often in their need for reassurance and comfort.

boy hugging woman during daytime

5. They Are In Pain Or Unwell

It might sounds obvious, but it’s worth asking if your child is feeling unwell or in pain at the moment, because this could also be a reason for their clingy and whiny behavior – particularly if it’s come on suddenly.

Sure, you might know exactly when they’ve got a cold, but consider that the signs of teething or a sore throat are less obvious, but could perhaps be the root cause of their current behavior.

How To Deal With A Clingy Toddler

If you have a 1 or 2 year old who is clingy and whiny at the moment then you’re probably more than a little frustrated, not to mention exhausted.

Especially if they are exhibiting the “carry me syndrome“, in which case they want to be picked up and in your arms seemingly all the time.

The good news is that as with any developmental phase, what your child is going through is just temporary and should pass soon.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do immediately to help ease the situation.

Here are 5 tips for dealing with a clingy toddler with separation anxiety.

1. Distractions

We all know that babies and toddlers have pretty short attention spans, so why not use this to your advantage.

For example, if you are out and about with your toddler and they are demanding to be carried, you could try playing a game, singing, chatting to them or anything else that you know captures their attention.

Another example is if mom is leaving the house and your child is responding by crying or whining, this is the time for dad to step in and pull out the best distractions he possibly can!

I’ve found that encouraging them to play with their toys alongside me, letting them choose their favorite thing to watch on TV or even giving them the occasional sweet treat (as a last resort) all work well in these circumstances, and quickly take their mind off what was making them cry or moan in the first place.

woman in gray sweater carrying girl in blue denim jacket

2. Reassure Your Child

Another great tip for dealing with a clingy child is to try and help them as much as possible to feel secure.

If your toddler is scared that you may not come back when you leave the house or drop them off at daycare, then it’s vital you reassure them that everything will be OK, and that yes you will return and see them again later!

What you are trying to do here is gain their trust.

Try not to make promises you can’t keep – for example telling your toddler you’ll pick them up after daycare when you know you’ll be at work and your partner or another caregiver will collect them instead.

3. Practice

It sounds funny, but with regards to dealing with clinginess there are lots of similarities between young children and pets!

If you’ve ever had to train a puppy you’ll be familiar with the technique of practicing separation with the goal of building your pet’s trust.

The same technique can be useful when “training” your toddler that you will always return to them after you’ve left them.

So try leaving your child for short periods – perhaps with your spouse, relative or friends – and then return to them after a short period.

This will help gain your toddler’s trust, confidence and reassurance that you will actually return whenever you leave them, and in the process they will get used to being left without you.

Close-Up Photo Of Toddler

4. Keep Hello’s And Goodbye’s Low Key

Is your baby having meltdowns each time you leave the house or say goodbye to them?

If so, one helpful tactic is to keep greetings and goodbye’s low key and to not make a big deal out of these exchanges.

Say goodbye lovingly and affectionately, reassure your child you’ll be back soon, and then leave quickly after that.

Remember here that the last thing you want are long, drawn-out goodbyes, or similarly to make a massive deal about mom or dad’s return after only a few hours apart from your child.

5. Don’t Blame Your Toddler Or Call Them A Baby

Lastly, it can be tempting to scold or tell your toddler off when they are being overly needy or clingy, but this might have the opposite effect and harm their confidence and independence.

If your child is acting like they did 6, 12 or even 18 months ago don’t call them a baby however tempting this may be, because making them feel bad won’t do any good.

It’s not easy, but try to remind yourself that the phase they are going through is a totally normal part of their development, and what your toddler really needs is your understanding, support and encouragement in order to help them feel safe and confident.

Wrapping Things Up

As someone who graduated with a Psychology degree, I find the topic of child behavior and attachment fascinating, particularly as many of your child’s current behavioral traits are natural and in-built.

Being a mom or dad is hard at the best of times, but it can be even harder when your little one wants to be close to you every second of the day.

There’s no escaping that these periods of clinginess are challenging, but try to stay patient and give some of the tips above a go.

Above all, try to take this period in your stride safe if the knowledge that the clingy toddler phase definitely won’t last forever!

Must Read: Navigating Your Child’s Early Development

Tori is mama to 3 year old Isabella and co-founder of Rockinbaby. She has a BSc in Psychology, is a certified yoga teacher and is a working mom. In her free time Tori loves cooking delicious foods and baked treats, entertaining and working out. Learn more about Tori here.

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