“What do I do about my child? She will not leave my side. I know I should love her attention and affection, but she is smothering me. I can't do anything without her hanging and clinging onto me. Me and my husband can't even go on dates because she makes such a fuss. Am I spoiling her? Some people have said that this must by why she won't leave me. She is 20 months old.”
This is a great question! So many families experience what you have just analyzed. There is hope for your daughter and the solution might surprise you.
My Clingy Child
My first two children were adventurous and trusting of their world. Sure, they each had a few of the baby clingy moments that most all children have. I had to go to nursery with them at church for a while before they felt safe enough in the environment to trust it. But, over all, they felt secure with me or without me. But, my third child was different.
Londyn wouldn't leave my side. She wouldn't go to her nursery class at church alone ever. I tried everything I could think of to help her break from me, but nothing worked. I remember a woman I admire telling me, “Nicholeen you just have to teach her to be alone. Let her cry it out.”
For weeks I pondered this advice and wondered if it would be best for my child. Then I compared the upbringing of my two previous children to the upbringing of this child. It was pretty much the same. “Could it be that my clingy child was just a different sort of child and needed a different level of connection from me?” I wondered.
The Clingy Child Cure
Since my older children were both extremely confident, I decided to trust that this child would become confident too. My plan was simple. I resolved to:
Not worry that this young child was different than my others
Enjoy the extra moments of cuddling and closeness with the child
Trust in the process of learning and growing
To teach communication and life skills in order to increase confidence
Not allow myself to become selfish or short-sighted when the child clearly needed me
I enjoyed the clingy-ness for three years. Then one day she shocked me. My three year old baby was begging me to go down a zip-line at a local National Guard family day. Normally I would never put my young child on a tower in a harness and send her down to a big army man that was many yards away, but something in me said that this was important for Londyn, so I did it.
After this experience she chose other daring things to do as well. She was by far my strongest child and could do things at parks that I never thought were possible. So, while she often still wanted me close by, she was still doing daring things.
One Sunday at church she surprised me by walking off to her little church class all by herself and has never looked back since.
Londyn is now one of my most confident children. Not only does she dare to do many things and go many places without me, but she is the most confident in her morals too. She clearly sees when others are not making good choices and confidently chooses not to participate. She doesn't worry about not being included in play and doesn't get offended. Her confidence in herself is just what I hoped for her when she was a clingy youngster.
What if I would have forced a detachment when she wasn't ready? Would that have worked just the same? Would there have been any negative side effects?
Detachment should never be the goal in parenting. Everything we do and every correction or lesson we teach should lead to further, deeper connection with the child. However, connection doesn't necessarily mean the child will by clingy. Forcing detachment could by very confusing to the child. When someone feels a lone, they don't feel safe. For a parent to push a child into a place of abandonment will likely increase anxiety initially, and decrease connection later on as well.
I remember my first day of swimming lessons as a child. I cried and cried and cried. I wouldn't get in the water without my mom and she wouldn't come to me. Another swimming teacher had to comfort me while my whole class swam. This tantrum was repeated every lesson. I would not yield. And, consequently I hated the water and swimming for a multiple years afterward. Finally, a few years later when I was more confident and felt more protected I learned to swim and learned to love swimming lessons.
My poor mother! I know she was probably worried about my clingy-ness too. I know she wanted me to enjoy swimming like she did and to get rid of my fears. But, I was not ready yet. So, I swam on Mom's back around the pool with her for a couple more years until I was prepared to take the plunge myself.
Detachment from parents is a current social trend. The same trend has been popular in cultures many times before. But, society doesn't seem to be able to consistently stay disconnected from their children. Why? Could it be because when children are born they need everything, and that plain and simple observation leads parents to continue to be there to raise and teach their children and to connect to them in love? Could it be because children are best taught by loving parents? Could it be that God intended parents to teach children to be secure simply by cuddling, loving and caring for their needs, even if the need is the parent?
Don't worry about your clingy child. They are giving you a message about what they need right now. Lovingly fulfill their need to have you close by and acknowledge to yourself that this will be short-lived. Enjoy your close times and trust in the confidence that will come from the close relationship you now have.
Teach your child confidence building skills with these fun stories!