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The “clingy phase” is a common one among little kids. They may feel the separation anxiety hit when it’s time to go to daycare or school—or they may not want to let you out of their sight even in your own home. It can be a frustrating time for parent and child alike—but it’s also a normal part of child development.

“What [clingy] behavior tells us is that for whatever reason, our child, at this point in time, needs a lot of reassurance, and they need a lot of extra comfort and connection,” said Rebecca Parlakian, an early childhood education expert with the nonprofit organization Zero to Three.

Why little kids become clingy

Major disruptions in a child’s life—starting a new school, moving, or the introduction of a new sibling, to name a few—may cause them to need to feel an extra sense of security.

“It’s particularly common when there is a lot going on in a child’s life that they don’t understand,” Parlakian said.

This may have been especially true over the past couple of years, as all kids (and adults) have managed countless disruptions to their normal routine.

“Being a kid, sometimes you feel so powerless,” said Melissa Goldberg-Mintz, a child psychologist and founder of Secure Base Psychology. “You’ve got this routine that helps you feel grounded, but it goes out the window, and you feel unmoored—of course you want to connect back to your primary caregiver.”

If you know there is going to be a big change coming up, it can help to prepare your child ahead of time by talking them through what will happen and why several times, so they are not caught off-guard.

How to help a clingy child

The best way to help your child through a clingy phase is by acting as the safe, secure base they need. Extra time and attention is in order, so up the one-on-one time, even if you can only manage that in small increments of time throughout the day. Look for these quick moments of connection.

“Responding to the clinginess will help foster a secure attachment with your child, so that down the road, they’ll internalize the sense that if they need mom or dad, they can trust they’ll be there,” Goldberg-Mintz said.

While working through a clingy phase, parents can also help their kids develop coping strategies for whatever big life changes have them unsettled. If they are worried about going to school, encourage them to talk them through their fears, and brainstorm solutions together. To make some of these transitions a little easier, Goldberg-Mintz recommends books like The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. What you don’t want to do is invalidate their feelings by simply saying everything will be fine and that they shouldn’t worry.

Of course, there is normal clinginess, and then there is clinginess that seems too intense or lasts for too long. Clinical psychologist Elizabeth Westrupp writes for The Conversation that parents should consider three things: the context (any changes they’re experiencing), the intensity of the behavior (how much it is interfering in their regular life), and how long it has been occurring.

If the behavior is occurring daily and lasting more than four weeks, and is interfering with the child’s life,” Westrupp writes,it may be helpful to consult with a professional such as a GP, pediatrician, psychologist, or school counselor.”



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