Whether it’s grabbing your legs or screaming when you disappear from sight, seeing your toddler become clingy can be so upsetting – but it is generally just another part of their development.
If your child has suddenly become uncertain when you’re not around, it's best to reassure them with a gentle approach.
‘Clinginess comes in phases, but triggers can include a new sibling, starting nursery, a house move or even something as simple as going on holiday,’ says Fi Star-Stone, author of The Baby Bedtime Book: Say Goodnight To Sleepless Nights.
‘Sometimes, it’s about a strange place, a different bed and unfamiliar surroundings, any change in the regular routine.’
Whatever the reason your toddler’s doing their best glue impression right now, understand what’s going on to help the phase pass.
Picking mum over dad
If their clinginess means you’re number one while your partner’s shut out (or vice versa), don’t panic.
‘It’s totally normal for babies and toddlers to show a preference for one parent during these phases,’ explains Fi.
It can help the one your toddler’s less clingy with, to get really involved in things like bath time and massage. Plus, bring in lots of family time and make sure care is as equal as possible. And if the change is a new sibling, give them lots of quality time and make them feel included.
Ease into interaction
You want to strike that balance between reassurance and still helping your child feel comfortable around anyone that isn’t you.
You want to strike that balance between reassurance and still helping your child feel comfortable around anyone that isn’t you
‘It's important your child interacts with others, as you can't carry them all the time,’ says Fi. ‘So boost their confidence by sitting with them on your lap while they play until they feel secure enough to leave your safety net.’
Encourage time with family and friends too, by letting them hold your toddler while you’re close by.
‘Don't force it, though,’ says Fi. ‘Increase the distance between you and others while they’re with them, but go softly. The insecure feelings are very real to your little one, and ignoring them won't help.’
The leave-the-room trick
If it’s safe, try leaving the room but keep talking to reassure your child that you’re still around.
‘Say something like, “Mummy’s just going to get your nappy, I'm coming right back” and talk continuously while you are getting it,’ says Fi.
Moving into childcare
It can be one of the toughest times leaving your little one at nursery or with a babysitter, but some strategies can make it easier.
‘A settling-in period is ideal, so a few hours at first and then working up to a full day,’ says Fi. ‘Always give a hug and kiss, say goodbye and that you'll be back. Reaffirm this several times so it sinks in, even if they're upset. With older children, give a time scale, so you’ll be back after they’ve had lunch, for example.’
Stick to the same routine, too – everything from who drops them off to how they hang up their coat will help them understand that although it’s hard, you will come back.
‘Another great way of helping them cope is to give them something that smells of you, such as a T-shirt or blanket,’ suggests Fi.