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I'm Avital.

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Why is my child so clingy and whiny?

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Do you ever feel like your child is super clingy? Do you find yourself at the end of the day feeling totally touched out? And exhausted? Needing a moment to yourself!!! Give me a “LOVE” in the comments if this is you right now.

 

First off, you’re so not alone. Thousands of the parents I interact with talk about clinginess being their number ONE challenge – they might phrase it as feeling overwhelmed, feeling needed all the time, or their child not ever playing independently – but the general gist is: My kid is all over me, like white on rice.

 

I’m here to set your mind at ease: You should know that some level of clinginess is normal. It’s healthy. It makes sense. Children are designed to seek proximity to their adult caregivers! It’s the most basic human survival mechanism that has served us very well throughout our evolution.

 

That hunter-gatherer toddler that wouldn’t let go of their mama’s leg? THAT’S the DNA that survived…But of course, our children are (thankfully!) not at risk of being eaten by wolves if they allow us to finish our tea in peace… and yet… they don’t.

 
Some of the trouble with this sticky (sorry!) topic is that in our W.E.I.R.D (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) societies – we have a warped understanding about independence vs interdependence.
 

We often push our babies into independence. Expecting them to sleep through the night in their first few weeks – often far away from our bodies – and without waking us. Weaning off the breast well before the natural weaning age. None of this is to guilt us “w.e.i.r.d.” parents – this is how our society has developed, for better or worse, and many of these practices are necessary in order for us to lead the lives we want (shout out to my working mamas!)

 

We, simultaneously, interfere with the independence they are developing – we prop our babies in front of moving mobiles, entertain them with our constant chattering and singing, rather than sometimes allowing and encouraging them to explore the world on their own.

 

“Oh?! That ball is just out of reach! Here, let me grab it for you.”

 

“Oh?! You were sitting quietly looking at the window?! Let me turn on the music and the flashing toy so that you’ll have more to look at!”

 

Whilst we often deny them dependency where they most need it (such as sleeping close to us, being held by us, being fed by us) – we deny their independence where they are ready for it – such as playing independently on the floor, without adult direction, teaching, and entertainment.

 

I do believe that these practices (many of which I’ve chosen to do myself) hinder the natural development of independence that will naturally occur if allowed, rather than pushed. If we allow our children a more full immersion and dependency in infancy and develop secure attachment from their earliest days – I imagine they’ll be more naturally inclined to explore and become independent in their toddlerhood and beyond.

 

If we respect that exploration – and offer a safe environment for risk-taking – then they’ll gradually grow into independence. If we push a child into independence they’ll cling to us even harder. It’s a delicate dance – they need our laps, our arms, our words, our closeness available to them much of the time. But they also need our confidence and our trust that they are safe and allowed to direct their own interests and explore the world.

 

 

Important note: Allowing them greater dependency doesn’t mean you need to allow them to trespass on your boundaries – if you’re uncomfortable nursing, if you need your sleep, if you want some time alone – I believe it’s critical to set boundaries. To pick and chose those activities and practices that feel good to you! (See more here on attachment parenting gone wrong.)

 

But, if we constantly push them into independence – they’re in a biological paradox. Instead, we want them to feel so secure and so connected that they can rely on us to be there when they go away and explore.

 

We want to provide that push and pull – allowing them to explore and pull away, while still looking back to see that we’re there safely.
 

But having said all that – needing us is very normal and healthy. Labeling it clingy often puts a negative spin on it and doesn’t make sense.
 

Why do children become overly clingy?

They may be experiencing stress – and all kids do sometimes. When kids are going through big developmental stages, developing new skills, going through a transition like moving house or having a new sibling, when they’re mastering a new skill like walking or potty training… they’re more likely to need you. Just as you would need your partner or friend more intensely if you were going through a big stressor. Makes sense.
 
The trick is to see it and identify it – and in this case, provide the extra support. During these times we want to provide a safe base for them. (I know, not always possible when you’re likely also experiencing that same transition! In that case – give yourself grace, you’re doing the best you can!)
 
Overly involved parenting – the infamous helicoptering. can definitely induce clinginess – when a parent leaves the metaphorical (or literal!) “home base” and follows a child into their exploration – fixing things for them, clearing obstacles from their way, and becoming overly involved in their frustrations. Entertaining them, jabbering at them endlessly, “teaching” all the time and answering every whim of theirs that they could be doing for themselves (like getting a glass of water or figuring out an issue with a friend.)
 
If you’re getting involved in all these places, they’re getting the message from you that they can’t do it themselves and they should instead rely on you and cling to you. It’s kind of a bad habit – they’ve gotten used to getting you to do what they could be doing.
 
This doesn’t mean you should decline helping your child when they need help, but rather that you should trust and support their development and only provide the minimal scaffolding that’s necessary.
 
In a case like this, you may have inadvertently developed a codependent relationship (don’t worry! This is easily reversed while they’re still young…just follow along below.)

Codependency vs. Interdependency

From Wikipedia: Codependency is a controversial concept for a dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.
 
Of course, children are dependent on us – emotionally, physically, financially, and in practically every way. But our relationship needs to support them as autonomous individuals, and foster independence as gradually (over the course of many years) separating from us.
 
Interdependency has many definitions but I’m using it here to describe is a healthy connection where we’re both individuals who are part of a relationship. Co-dependency feels unhealthy and dysfunctional when we’re not actually respecting the separation of individuals. A codependent relationship feels like a burden to the parent – and feels stifling to the child. They feel they don’t have agency and potency or the ability to stand on their own two feet and make some decisions for themselves.
 
(Remember even babies can make decisions for themselves such as what to look at or how to explore their bodies right now).
 
Not to mention that adults in our culture need space! Most of us are alone for much of the day and feel isolated from other adults, help, and support. We feel buried under the relentlessness of caring for young children. It can lead to a sense of depression and feeling depleted.
 
This is why we so often resort to screens – fair enough – the trouble is that this often increases our children’s clinginess and dependency. Again they’re hooked on external entertainment and someone else solving the problem for them. For more on this see slow parenting and the importance of boredom.
 
I believe our role is to proactively go out and support our children’s quest for intrinsic self-driven independence whilst still offering them the safety of connection and dependency on us. Rather than brushing them off with a “go play!” We need to craft a schedule and an environment that supports that kind of quest.

To that end, some ideas:

5 Ways to Reduce Clinginess

  1. Fill your children’s love cups: positive vibes. They need to know we love being close to them. They need to know that going off on their own is safe, it doesn’t hurt our feelings and that we’re a sound base that they can return to. (You may need to repair some attachment wounds first).

  2. Create an environment that supports play and independence (see the three play zones here). We want to set up our home so that our children are able to and induced to maneuver throughout the day independently – as much as possible.

  3. Become a play coach – Be the adult in the room who knows how to support children as they bump up against rivalry, boredom, or frustrations. Rather than shutting things down as soon as our children hit an obstacle (“But mom, I’m bored” or “But Alias hit me!”) – become adept at facilitating a growth mindset through (and out of) these setbacks.

    Learn More about the Present Play Membership Here>

  4. Support true independence not by shoving a child off and telling them to “go play”. But rather by catering to their genuine quest for independence and providing the time, space, and materials needed to explore their interests.

  5. Take a break – find support so that you can get some space and really come back with better energy for your child. The more you’re entrenched in a clingy relationship that feels like too much to you – the more you push your child away – the greater the disconnect – and the clingier the child will become. Come back when you’re ready to truly be a secure attachment figure for them. When they sense your ease with your role, they can feel easy to go off and explore. They don’t feel the urge to cling to you tighter, for fear of you pulling away.

    To do all this, of course, you will need to prioritize your self-care. Develop that practice. If you’re ready to get your environment going and inducing play at home download the childhood design guide.


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So, what is a strew? It's simply leaving out toys, books, activities, or objects in a new and inviting way. Silently waiting for your kid to "discover" them and maybe - just maybe - to bite into independent play.

Did you know there are a myriad of "toys" in your home, strews waiting to be formed right under your nose?

Today, I want you to head to your KITCHEN and find things that your kid might take interest in...

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There's literally so many options and combinations to explore!

Try putting them out on a tray or somewhere that is not the kitchen. If you're feeling brave you can get really fancy and add in some water, slime, or dry beans (only do this if you're happy to clean it all up later).

There's really only ONE rule to becoming a Strew Pro:
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Go! Grab a few items and arrange your first strew... take a 📸 picture of it and share with me @parentingjunkie in your instagram stories!

Welcome to the wonderful world of strewing, my friend!

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Can your child play independently for 30 minutes in a day?

This week you have done a lot of designing - you created a "pop-up" (a quick and scrappy) Imagination, Messy, Movement, Quiet, and Focus Zone. If you have a little one - you made a YES space for them.

Phew! 😅 Time to give yourself a pat on the back!

☕️Grab your hot drink, 📚your book, and a fluffy pillow because I'll bet my Lego collection you're going to be able to catch 30 minutes of play.

Remember everything you learned in week one:
🌈 Observe without interrupting!
🌈 Practice the "BRB" technique
🌈 Set up little "pop-up zones"

...and I believe you'll be able to catch your child playing for 30 minutes today and 10x the independent play in your home by the end of this week from when you started this challenge.

Now, I know you might be feeling like you're totally not "done" designing your zones - of course not!

Rome wasn't built in a day (or a week!)

In Present Play, we're going to dedicate the entire month of May to perfecting your zones. But this should set you on your way and whet your appetite for more design solutions.

When you catch those 30 mins (or more!) make sure to share it with us! Tag me in your stories @parentingjunkie

★ SIGN UP for the Challenge - link in bio!

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The Focus Zone is where kids go to do their "work" (like schoolwork) and also where they do any activity that requires following instructions properly.

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CHALLENGE #13 - Create a Pop-Up Focus Zone!
Find that third cleared area that you prepped last week - preferably a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of the home. Try placing the materials in a box, bin, tray, or basket right there, and see what happens.

Show me by tagging @parentingjunkie 🤗

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"Shhhh!" 🤫 You're challenge for today is to create a pop-up Quiet Zone. Here's what I mean...

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Enter: The Quiet Zone

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Design a little calm, and let me know how it goes! 🧸

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5 comments

5 Replies to “Why is my child so clingy? How to reduce clinginess”

  1. Avital hi!
    You have so brilliantly put into words what I’m sure most of us know is going wrong in actuality! Really great article and have just signed up for the childhood design guide. Thank you so much x

  2. Oh boy this is such a great article. I feel soooo touched out all the time, and freak out if anyone pulls my hair even the slightest. I sometimes wonder if I am attachment parenting gone wrong….in one way my daughter is fiercely independent, and I can drop her off with other people and she is happy as ever. She will wander far far away and is not afraid of new situations. BUT when we are together I still feel like she is so needy, has a million requests for me, and would love to be nursing all day and night and I feel like I am “giving in” now as opposed to providing closeness, it is wierd! I get that is a delicate dance. And maybe she needs other kind of undivided attention more deliberately from me. Great article, thank you!

  3. What can we do about toddlers (2.5yo) constantly moaning and crying for you to put cartoons on and refusing to play and read anymore
    I dont let her watch anything since birth but since coming to my mums and staying here a bit, my mums has put on abc nursery rhyme ones on here and there and now she will not stop whining and repeating the word cartoon, untill I lose my cool !
    What can I do please ?

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