Get Off Me: How To Help Your Clingy Child Find Independence

Get Off Me: How To Help Your Clingy Child Find Independence

clingy child embracing mother's leg

There’s nothing quite like having children to make you appreciate alone time.

Before kids, I’d often seek out the company of other people rather than be alone. Now, my kids give me more company than I can handle some days, and after a particularly long day of one or the other of my kids attached to my leg, I’m desperate for even 20 minutes alone!

By their very nature, children are dependent on us, but sometimes that dependence crosses the line into clinginess that make parents feel stifled and touched out.

So what can you do to encourage independence in your child and help manage those times when your child is being especially clingy? Try some of these ideas and you might just be able to grab a shower or finish your cup of tea in peace!

1. Provide opportunities for independence and autonomy

From a very young age, babies are capable of enjoying self-directed time on their own, from a few moments looking around the room as a newborn, to playing on the floor as they get older. Providing opportunities for these moments of self-directed activity rather than rushing in, placing a toy in their hand or picking them up at the slightest noise gives your child a taste of autonomy and an understanding that they are more than fine on their own.

Trust that your child can solve a challenge they are faced with, whether that’s your baby learning to roll over or your toddler climbing at the playground. Encourage your child to take responsibility for age appropriate tasks, and try to avoid doing things for your child that they are capable of doing themselves.

2. Be aware of your own feelings and behaviour

Children are highly intuitive – they pick up on everything. And that includes any anxieties or negative feelings you have about leaving your child. Whether it is leaving them at daycare, or trying to grab a shower, if you feel upset, guilty or frustrated when separating from your child, it is going to be impossible for your child to separate easily.

Even if you don’t feel like it on the inside, project confidence and assuredness with your child when separating – let them know where you are going and when you will be back. Acknowledge their feelings without being dismissive or trying to distract them, and remind them again that you will be back. Even for something as simple as a shower, be confident that you can leave the room, and although your child may cry or whine, they will be okay and the best thing to do is confidently leave – your child will take comfort in your confidence and begin to trust that you will do as you say.

3. Ensure your child feels heard and understood

I get it, sometimes it is so hard to pay attention to the million and one things your kids want to tell you, and always while you’re trying to get ready for work, make dinner or get a load of washing on. But clinginess and whining aren’t signs your child is out to drive you crazy, they are a cry for help. Taking a step back and trying to stop, get down on your child’s level and really listen when they want to speak to you can go a long way to reducing clinginess. Repeat back what your child has said to show you’ve heard, and acknowledge their feelings even if it seems trivial to you.

Try to spend time one-on-one with each of your children every day, even 10 minutes is enough. Switch off your screens during this time, and focus on doing something your child enjoys, even if that means getting down on the floor and having a tea party!

4. Learn your child’s love language

Clinginess can be caused by a feeling of disconnection between a child and its parents. If a child is feeling disconnected, they will act out those feelings in whining, clinginess and tears. You might feel like you are spending loads of time with your child and showering them with love, but does it feel that way to them?

Dr Gary Chapman developed the concept of love languages – five different ways people experience love. The love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. You may love cuddling with your child, but if their love language is words of affirmation, they may need to hear the words “I love you” more often than receiving cuddles. Similarly, you may spend quality time with your child, but if your child’s love language is receiving gifts that quality time might not be enough and you may need to show your love through sharing gifts with your child. It doesn’t have to be an expensive toy, sometimes a posy of flowers picked from the garden can be the best gift ever! Working out what your child’s primary love language is can help to ensure that your child feels loved and connected, hopefully reducing the need to cling.

And to help you cope with those clingy times, learning to accept that clinginess is a natural part of growing up and not trying to fight it or let yourself get frustrated and angry about it is the best approach.

Alison Boston
Alison is a freelance writer and communication strategist whose experience as a mother to her five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter inspires her to share stories with other parents to hopefully help everyone make it out the other side with their sanity intact! Alison lives in Sydney with her husband and kids in a half-finished dream house she hopes will be finished before it's time for the kids to move out, and spends her spare time scouring Pinterest for design ideas, searching Gumtree for second-hand furniture and sweeping the never ending dust off the floor.