As parents of toddlers, we’ve all been there - one minute everything is fine, and the next, your little one has a death grip on your leg and has melted into a blubbering mess. This is a common phase for many children as their world opens up to new people, activities and environments. During this time, situations that may feel perfectly safe to an adult can be absolutely terrifying to a little one. Thankfully, with a little patience, encouragement and reassurance, you can help your clingy toddler feel more independent.
Set clear expectations and stick to your word
Establishing trust with your child at a very young age is essential as this plays a big role in how confident they will be when faced with scary situations as they get older. When dropping your child off at daycare or with a family member, set clear expectations for when you will be leaving and when you will be back. If possible, start by only leaving them for short periods at a time. As you prepare to go, give them a countdown (I will be leaving in 5 minutes) or relate it to an activity (I will be leaving as soon as you have your snack). Whatever you do, do not try to sneak away unnoticed. This will make the situation even scarier for a clingy toddler and will make them trust you less.
Encourage your child to spread their wings - one step at a time
If you and your child are out and about, follow their lead if they take the initiative to venture off on their own. They may engage in conversation with a new friend at the playground, or show a relative one of their special new toys. These seemingly small interactions are actually big steps towards building confidence so it’s best to sit back and quietly watch from a distance. By giving your child a little extra attention when they do return to you, they will be reassured that it’s ok to do things without you right at their side and that you will always be a safe haven for them to come back to whenever they need a hug.
Be brave, mama!
When little ones exhibit signs of fear and anxiety, it can often trigger an emotional response in their parents as well. While it’s important to show empathy and respect for your toddler’s concerns, it’s equally as important for you to put on a brave face. When doing an emotional drop off, or witnessing your little one take a new big step out into the world, it’s sometimes helpful to purchase a special ‘friend’ for your child (such as this super sweet Snuggle Bunny or this extra soft Sophie the Sheep) to offer a little extra comfort and security. As for yourself, remember to pack extra tissues in your purse and save your tears for when you are safely out of your child’s sight.
Why having a clingy toddler isn’t all that bad
Being a parent to a needy toddler can be exhausting for sure, but in the blink of an eye, your little one will be pushing you away and begging for independence. So, while it’s important to consistently encourage your child to explore and take risks, remember, there is no need to rush as this stage can mean extra special bonding time for you and your child. In the meantime, soak it all up and enjoy those extra cuddles.