How To Deal with a Clingy Toddler

Does the following scene ring a bell? You walk into a birthday party with your 2-year-old son, who is well acquainted with the birthday girl and all the other toddler guests. Still, your little guy is stuck to you like brand new Velcro® to a sneaker.

You try to encourage him to go join the other children, but he won’t budge – whimpering when you make the suggestion. All the other parents, whose children are off playing happily together, seem to eye you with either pity or condemnation. You’ve obviously done something terribly wrong in the short life of your child, you say to yourself, to make him cling to you so fearfully.

But is clingy behavior “wrong” or just a normal part of the developmental stage of toddlers?

Like little lambs?

The late Dr. Benjamin Spock’s venerable classic Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care points out that separation anxiety, of which clingyness is a part, is completely normal in 1- to 3-year-olds. Children’s desire to stay close to their parents once they learn to walk is an instinct probably related to the young of other species, such as sheep and goats, who follow closely after their mothers and bleat when they get separated. Unlike little lambs or kids (of the goat variety), who walk right after they’re born, human children don’t learn to walk until around 1 year old. But both kinds of young ones, once they begin to “toddle,” need the “trailing-after-mom (or dad)” instinct to protect them from getting lost or harmed.

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