Separation anxiety:How to manage a clingy child

Your child might begin to be clingy as he or she begins to grow up and become more aware of the world around him or her. Your child might also start incorporating various personality traits and habits as separation anxiety kicks in. While some kids tilt towards confidence and independence from an early age, others remain clingy, seeking attention, safety, and reassurance from parents and caretakers, most especially their mums.

Having a clingy child may be tolerable at first but in the long run, it can really become exhausting and frustrating to deal with a clingy child. If this is your plight, you may find the suggestions below helpful to help you learn how to manage a clingy child.


Comprehend what you’re dealing with.

You have to understand and see clinginess as a very normal in the development cycle of your child. Yes, most children go through this stage at different times and to varying degrees, and so, is no cause for alarm.

Different developmental stages trigger it for different kids. For some, it is at the stage of learning to walk, when they are toddlers just learning to put words together to communicate; or when they’ve just gone through a big change like starting daycare or crèche.

As some kids get older and comprehend that they are separate from you, as you introduce them to other care-givers and as they start getting introduced to the real world that is not always friendly or safe, they may feel alone and unprotected. This is why your child might resort to clinging to you for reassurance that they’ve got someone on their side through it all.


Get to the Root of the Matter

Consider the reason(s) for your child’s clinginess. Are they any names, circumstances, or certain places that make your child nervous or uncomfortable? Try to pinpoint which issues make your child behave especially anxious, so you can predict when the clinginess will be at its worst and nip it in the bud.

Also, after you have outlined the possible triggers, consider sharing your findings with her nanny, teachers/other caregivers to ensure they adequately manage these situations when you are not around.

Read also how to stop your child from crying at school

Introduce a form of structure

Try to make things less random and more predictable for your clingy child by having the schedule/routine as defined as possible. Yes, we are conversant with our children’s schedule but they may not be. Children live in the moment and have shorter memory spans. Using pictures to depict their weekly schedule, telling them what to expect next this is why you need to remind them when you will be available to spend time with them, for instance, “Remember, you and mummy’s playtime is after lunch.” Some clingy children desire a constant need for affection because they are unsure when or if the attention will be available. Schedule 15 to 20 minutes every day when you can provide your child with undivided attention. Introducing a sense of structure to their day will help instill orderliness and in turn, check clinginess.


Encourage Autonomy

Help your child build self-confidence by mastering new tasks and contributing to the environment in a helpful way. Create tasks that your child can help you with at home such as setting the table, handing you items when cooking, arranging their rooms or cleaning up their toys. The more confident a child feels in their abilities, the more independent, and secure and less clingy they will feel in any environment.

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Avoid situations that aggravate your child’s clinginess.

If your child is going through an especially clingy phase, it’s in your best interest to try to avoid the situations that make your child overly clingy. Just as you might avoid a situation that causes anxiety for you, it’s ok to avoid situations that do the same thing to your child.

Also, note too that hunger and tiredness can lead to clingy behaviors.


Applaud steps toward independence


Praise your clingy child for tasks or activities that they are able to do independently, e.g. any of the household chores mentioned above, playing nicely on their own or with friends. Praising your child for doing things independently sends the message that they are capable of doing things for themselves and would feel confident without your presence hovering over them all the time.


Please don’t sneak out leaving your child

Some parents find it easier to sneak out when their clingy child has a hard time or throw a tantrum each time they leave. It’s tempting, I get it, but this will only increase your child’s anxiety and clinginess because they will be scared to engage in any activity too long for fear that you may sneak out and disappear at any moment. Make the ritual of stepping out as normal as possible. Inform them mummy will be going out but will return as quickly as possible. Yes, they may cry sometimes, but over time, the frequency reduces until it becomes the norm. You can then add the ritual of purchasing maybe a snack on your way back so it becomes something they always look forward to for when you return.


Make your Goodbyes brief

When saying goodbye, be brief, do not hesitate or linger, and do not overreact if your child gets upset or starts crying after saying goodbye. Lingering or worse, giving in will only get into her feelings and make it worse. In fact, chances are that lingering will increase the likelihood that she will continue to cry or seek your affection to prolong your stay or keep you from stepping out each time.


Prepare your child for potentially problematic situations.

If you cannot avoid a particular situation, do your best to prepare your clingy child for it. Explain where you are going, what you will be doing, and what kind of behavior you’d like her to put on.

Even if your child is only a baby or toddler and doesn’t yet speak much, you can explain in simple terms what to expect. Babies understand language much sooner than they can speak. Use short, simple sentences and a lot of detail.

If your child seems especially upset when you leave her in the care of someone else, take the time to prepare for this, too. Start by reassuring him that you understand exactly how he feels and that his feelings are valid. Emphasize the fun she will have, and how quickly you will return. Resist the urge to sneak away; simply explain what’s going on, and keep a positive attitude. Sneaking will only encourage distrust.


Introduce social activities

Socializing with children of the same age can help children develop attachments to their peers and can build social skills necessary for interacting with people outside of the immediate family. Set up regular play dates with a peer of your child’s choice from school, co-mums who will bring their own kids, or schedule a class or weekend trips to the park. While on such dates, play with your child and their friends until they are comfortable playing on their own.


Be a little less protective.

Let your child experience some freedom and independence where appropriate. You may need to get over your own fears and apprehensions before your child can do the same.

Instead of structuring your child’s entire day or trying to interact with him constantly, let him have some entertainment for small periods of time. He may like to look at storybooks, color, or play with his toys. If your child is a young toddler, he may only be able to play alone for a few minutes at a time, but by the time he is four or five years old, he should be able to spend an hour or more in imaginative play.

In public places, take one step back from where you normally stand while he plays. As long as he is able to safely navigate the playground equipment, continue to take a step back each time you take your child to the playground until you are sitting on a bench nearby. Offer encouragement and support, and stay involved by actively watching, but try not to hover too closely.


Start each day with love and affection.

Set a positive tone for the day by greeting your child with hugs and kisses in the mornings. Children who receive a lot of love in the form of physical affection tend to have a closer bond with their caregivers, which creates a feeling of safety and reassurance. It also bolsters brain growth, social skills, and self-confidence, all of which will help your child feel more secure out there, and thus, less likely to want to cling to you every time.



Every child is unique. Clinginess is a normal stage, and your child will grow out of it on her own timetable. Be patient with her through it all. And don’t get so upset that you forget to take care of yourself. It can be emotionally draining to have a child who constantly clings to you, so take time to relax and do something you enjoy while your child is safe in school or with a family member.

Featured image: @de_mure