You’re beyond tired. You’re recovering from a cold, been working overtime, and are preparing for a family gathering of 30 people. This is not the week you need your 3-year-old to force you into weight training by demanding to be carried to all places near and far. To put her down is to endure a piercing “Carry me!” that isn’t fit for human ears. Consequently, you’re building biceps because you are the only one she will allow to transport her. And dropping her off at preschool this week? You’re not ready to talk about that. The trauma is still too fresh.

Now, as a mom myself, and a longtime educator, I’m going to tiptoe into this whirlwind of exhausted chaos to tell you what I think is awesome about it: Your child is attached to you – not just physically, but emotionally. You are your child’s secure base, and you are the one she seeks out when she needs comfort and assurance. That’s healthy. I do realize, however, that packing a 35-lb. weight on your hip while trying to trudge upstairs to the shower has its drawbacks. So, let’s break it down.

Can you remember a time when you were relieved to see a familiar face in a room full of strangers? Do you recall bolting to that person’s side and staying there until you got your bearings and felt more confident about interacting with people you didn’t know?

Periodically, we all go through a little separation anxiety. Young children have far less skills to process change, unpredictable situations, new people, and unfamiliar environments. Although you wouldn’t know from the opening story – there is likely some type of unsettledness that has our 3-year-old stuck like glue to the person she’s most connected to.

If you’re dealing with a clingy child who’s draining your energy with the need for constant attention, take a quick assessment of any change or unpredictable situations that might be difficult for her to understand, process, or put into words. Then consider the following suggestions for smoothing out the rough spots:

  • Keep your child’s routines as consistent as possible. The more predictable her life is, the more independent and confident she’ll feel. Life is less scary when you know what’s happening next.
  • Talk about any upcoming changes or disruptions ahead of time. Discuss upcoming changes and any emotions or anxious thoughts surrounding these changes. A short conversation with your child will help prepare her to manage the situation. Prepared change is far easier to navigate than unprepared change.
  • Avoid sneaking away from your child. It’s tempting to employ the getaway strategy when leaving a clingy child at school or with a caregiver. But sneaking away only reinforces the message that unpredictability is stressful – and Mom disappears.Clingy behavior will ease as your child begins socializing with other children and becomes more confident and independent. Periodically, your child will need to cellophane-wrap herself to you when a temporary stress creeps into her world. But it’s awesome that she chooses you when that happens.

    About the author

    Cheryl Flanders, M.Ed.

    Cheryl is a seasoned educator and writer, having worked in the field of education for over 25 years. Cheryl has taught high school and college courses and has also served as an elementary school principal. Most recently, Cheryl retired from her full-time position as Manager of Teacher Preparation for the corporate offices of KinderCare Education in Portland, Oregon. There she developed training for over 25,000 early childhood teachers that KinderCare employs nationwide.

    Cheryl and her husband now reside in Boise, Idaho, where she is a mom; a grandma; and an active author, speaker, and early childhood consultant. Having suffered the loss of a child three years ago, Cheryl’s passion is to use both her personal and professional experiences to provide hope and inspiration to families and teachers working with young children. She believes that the best vehicle for helping children… is to look through their eyes.

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