My toddler is going through a clingy phase. Only Mommy will do. I’m sure it’s just a phase (at least I think I’m sure. Please let it be a phase!) but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when I’m trying to make dinner, answer my emails, and sneak a cookie out of the cabinet without him looking.
It’s easy to get frustrated with your kids when they do things like this. I mean, they’re acting like you’re threatening to offer them up for adoption when you tell them you’re going into the next room to get their socks. But, the truth is, getting frustrated or trying to force them to get out of your space is probably just going to make the problem worse. Your toddler is a human being (albeit a slightly irrational one) and his feelings deserve to be acknowledged. But there are also a few things you can do to try to gain back a few extra inches of personal space.
1. Explain what’s going on
Your toddler is a person. I know that’s hard to believe sometimes (like when he’s running around in circles trying to keep up with the ceiling fan), but he really is. That doesn’t mean he has the same veto power you do, or the same amount of control over what happens in your day. But it does mean that he’s thinking thoughts, and wondering things just like the rest of us. The only thing is, he’s got a lot less information about the world than we do. So, at the same moment he begins to realize that you and he are not actually one symbiotic being, he infers that if you’re not in his line of sight (or even, not physically touching him), you may never come back. So tell him. Tell him you’ll come back. In our house we say, “Mommy will always come back.” We say it a lot. Like, if I go out and leave him with his dad for a while, I tell him “Bye! And remember, Mommy will always come back.” And when I do come back I say, “See! I came back!” You can even say something like that when you’re just going into the other room for a second. The more he internalizes that phrase, and the more it proves to be true, the more willing he may be to let you out of his sight for a couple minutes.
2. Stick to a routine
I know that, with a toddler, following any plan exactly is often a losing battle. But a clear structure and routine to your day (even a flexible one with wiggle room built in) will help everyone to know where they stand. When your toddler isn’t sure about what’s going to be happening in his day, he may begin to wonder if, at some point, you might leave and never come back. Regardless of whether or not his behavior is making you want to leave and never come back, it’s good for him to know that that’s not actually an option. You don’t need to tell him every single tiny detail of what’ll be going on in your day, but give him the broad strokes. So, “Today we’re going to music class, then we’ll have a snack, play at home, have lunch, and take a nap,” for example. If there’s some time in your day when you’re going to need to leave him with someone else, put that in there as part of the plan: “After snack, Mommy is going to go out and you’re going to stay with the babysitter until lunch time.” Or whatever. Kids like to know the schedule. I mean, don’t we all?
3. Validate his feelings
Regardless of how your toddler’s clinginess is making you feel, he’s having feelings about it too. Or, at least, about you being too far away from him. He’s a very small person in a great big world and, sometimes, things are confusing and scary. It’s not coddling him to let him know that you understand that it can be tough sometimes. Tell him something like, “I know it feels kind of scary when you can’t see Mommy. But I always know where you are and promise to keep you safe.” Or whatever works for you. If he’s in the middle of an epic meltdown because you’re telling him he can’t spend the rest of the afternoon wrapped around your head, you could say something like, “It’s hard to be a toddler sometimes, isn’t it!” while disentangling him from your hair. Just let him know you’re in this together. That you know it’s hard sometimes, but that everything is going to be okay. Because it is.
None of this will make him stop clinging, of course. It’s a phase and it’s just going to run its course. But it may make you both feel a little calmer about the whole thing. If, that is, he unwraps himself from your head long enough for you to read this article.
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