What to Do When Your 3 Year Old Is Too Attached to You

Is your 3 year old attached to you too much? Learn several strategies to help your child become more independent and take to other people. 

3 Year Old Attached to Mom

Sometimes, a strong attachment to mom isn’t always a blessing. Take the case when my 3 year old wanted me… and only me.

Despite my husband having been away at work the whole day, my son wouldn’t want anything to do with him. Dropping him off with a babysitter was a struggle since he’d cry and try to run after me as I said goodbye. And when I was busy with something, he’d get angry and upset, adding to my already-depleted patience. 

As difficult as this behavior was, I later learned that it’s normal and doesn’t last forever. More importantly, I took certain steps to ease his clingy attachment and help him develop a strong bond with others.

If your child is overly attached to one parent (ahem: mom), take a look at these do’s and don’ts to turn things around:

Do respect your child’s feelings

It’s easy to feel discouraged when your child is rejecting one parent. Still, the last thing you want to do is to make her feel guilty or that she’s hurting her dad in some way.

For one thing, your partner is better equipped to cope with difficult emotions than she is (he is the adult, after all). She’s also entitled to her feelings and shouldn’t be punished for experiencing them. And this added guilt doesn’t do anything to help them nurture a strong relationship with each other.

Instead, acknowledge how she feels (“It looks like you want mama to brush your teeth…”) but don’t guilt her into feeling bad for her dad (“Look how sad daddy got!”).

That said, while you should respect her feelings, that doesn’t mean you have to accommodate them. Just because she feels sad for wanting you to brush her teeth, that doesn’t mean that you’ll drop everything you’re doing when her dad is available to do so.

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Don’t accommodate your child’s demands

Does your 3 year old throw a fit because he wants you to do everything for him? As tempting as it is to give in and do what he wants to avoid yet another tantrum, this only reinforces his clingy behavior even further.

Agreeing to his demands also denies his dad from caring for and spending time with him. How can they develop a bond when you resort to taking care of him all the time?

Instead, refuse his unreasonable demands and simply say, “Time to read books with daddy!” Keep it matter-of-fact, then head straight into action.

Yes, he’ll likely throw a fit, but consider it a temporary hassle for long-term gains. Over time, his attitude can change, and you can even acknowledge any progress he has made (“Looks like you and daddy had fun at the park!”).

Do let your child spend time with others

Part of the reason your 3 year old continues to be attached is that she may not have many opportunities to spend time with others.

Sometimes, this is simply part of your life choices: your partner might work long hours while you’re the primary caregiver who’s home with her all day. But other times, she doesn’t get the opportunity to be with others because you’re there all the time.

It’s tempting to step in the minute she cries, but that could be contributing to the problem. Stepping back can be hard at first, but you don’t always have to “save the day.”

Instead, allow your partner or another family member to manage without you. One of the easiest things you can do is to simply leave. Get out of the house to grab coffee alone or take a 20-minute walk each night. This forces your child to adjust to others and develop a routine that works for them.

You can also involve your partner with household chores more regularly. It’ll help if he does the same tasks, like bathing every night or giving her breakfast every morning. That way, she knows that both parents are capable of taking care of her.

And finally, have your partner take her out for quality time. Not only would you be unable to step in even if you wanted to, but they’re also doing something fun together.

Don’t correct your partner in front of your child

Some of us can be “gatekeepers,” preventing our partners from being able to do anything for the kids because we step in right away. We correct them when we see them doing something “wrong” (aka not the way we would’ve done it). We re-do what they had just done or remind them how to do every little thing.

You can see how this can make your partner feel, but have you considered the message it sends to your child?

Seeing you correct her dad all the time makes it seem like he can’t do anything right. That you’re the one who knows how to do everything—and do it correctly. Would you want to go with someone who knows what she’s doing, or someone who seems to be making mistake after mistake?

Ask yourself if you even need to “correct” your partner at all. It’s okay if he didn’t offer your child her usual snacks or if he gave her the red blanket, not the green one. She probably didn’t mind, and if she did, then this was a great way for her dad to learn. But allow that opportunity to happen on its own, not by correcting him 24/7.

And if you do need him to change something, do so in private, out of your child’s earshot.

Do encourage your child’s independence

One of the best things to do when your 3 year old is attached to you is to increase her independence in the first place.

For instance, she might prefer that you—and not her dad—do everything for her, from putting on her shoes to grabbing her a snack. But what if you encouraged her to do these tasks on her own more often? Nurturing her independence means she has less need for coming to either of you to do it for her.

The next time she asks you for help, see if she can do it on her own. If she really can’t, do the minimal amount of work until she can do it herself. For instance, if she needs help opening a snack bag, don’t open it completely for her. Instead, tear it just enough for her to open the rest on her own.

Don’t talk poorly about her dad

Whether said in jest or not, comments and complaints about your partner can make matters worse. Sure, you’re entitled to your feelings, and if you have parenting disagreements, you may not be feeling so positive about him.

But hearing you speak badly about her dad or even admitting that he had hurt your feelings can affect your child’s views as well.

After all, if it seems like her dad hurt you, she won’t want the same to happen to her. The next time he takes her to the bathroom or plays a game, she’ll feel less inclined to do so when she had seen or heard you earlier talking poorly about him.

This doesn’t mean you’re dishonest with your feelings, but be mindful of the message you send. While you and I know that arguments come and go, she may not understand the complexities of relationships yet.

Should she see or hear you feel upset, do the next best thing and let her witness you and your partner apologize and make up. At least she’ll see that, while arguments happen, so too do resolutions.


Being extra clingy isn’t a good feeling for anyone. For the times when he’s too attached to you, now you have the steps to help him take to other adults as well. Because a strong attachment is certainly a blessing—in most cases.

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  1. Our 3 year old son started giving us trouble at bedtime a couple weeks ago. He insists on having mommy in bed with him to sleep. She’ll tuck him in and leave the room, but he’ll keep getting up after she leaves the room to get her again. It’s now where, instead of him being in bed himself by 7:30, She’s still stuck in bed with him until 10pm waiting for him to pass out enough for her to escape. It’s causing severe frustration especially since our evening time is now gone and we don’t see an easy way to get it back.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Andrew! Talk to him about your “family plan” of doing things differently tonight, but make sure you do it during the day when he’s calm and receptive (not when you’re about to go to sleep). Remind him throughout the day about the plan, and even ask him for ideas of what could make bedtime fun and easy. Try to brainstorm ideas that you can do, like keeping a nightlight on, or leaving the door slightly open with the hallway light on so that he knows mommy is there. Talk about what mommy will do after the usual routine, and that she will leave the room and check in on him if needed.

      If you still have your baby monitor, I would put it in his room so that you can catch him the second he makes a move to get up and leave. That way, you can “speak” into his room without having to actually open the door. If you don’t, you could stand by his door so that the second he even tries to open it, you’re there to remind him to go back to bed.

      Then, assuming he’s in his room crying, I would check in on him at set intervals. For instance, if he cries, set your timer for 5 minutes and only go in the room at that moment, even if he’s crying the whole time. The check-in is just to remind him that you’re really still here and that it’s time to sleep, not necessarily to calm him down. Then close the door and do it again at 10 minutes, and again at 15 minutes and every 15 minutes thereafter. That way, you’re checking in on him not when he cries, but when you decide to check in. Do the same if he happens to wake up in the middle of the night.

      Then the next day, make sure to congratulate him for sleeping on his own. Even if he spent the whole night crying and fussing, he actually did sleep on his own and not without mommy in the room. And that’s the most important thing, too: don’t let him fall asleep with mommy in the room because that just confirms his beliefs that he does need her there to fall asleep. Instead, you want him to feel confident and capable of knowing that he can sleep on his own.

      I hope that helps! Hang in there!

  2. I am a grandmother, and my three-year-old grandson will not allow anyone to do anything for him except his mother, and that includes his father. His mother is the only one who can take him out of the car seat, make him any snacks or food, feed him, get him dressed, etc. They are expecting another child in three months, and I would like to help in anyway I can, but as long as he throws a tantrum whenever someone else wants to help him with anything, I can’t help.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It’s definitely rough when kids are so attached to a parent, that they throw a fit if anyone else does anything for them but that parent. More than likely, this is happening because he senses the big changes happening in his life soon, and this is his way of coping with the emotions he may not understand yet.

      I’d ask the parents first to see how you can best help. Maybe their approach is to just appease him and let mom tend to his needs, in which case, the best way to help is to do the other things that mom would otherwise have to do. For instance, if he throws a fit because he wants her to strap him in the car seat, you can best help by carrying the bags to the car.

      But, I do think it’s worth it to give mom a break and, despite his tantrums, do the task for him. That way, he realizes that it’s okay if other adults help, and that it doesn’t mean mom doesn’t love him less or won’t do that task for him again. You might say, “Mama is washing dishes right now, so I’ll prepare the snacks for you.” You can even reassure him that she’ll tend to him soon in another way: “When you’re done, she can get you all cleaned up, and it’ll be my turn to wash the dishes.”

      And if he throws a fit, don’t feel compelled to hush him up quickly. Instead, let him feel his emotions. If he’s so loud that he can’t even hear you, just let him be, give him a hug if he lets you, etc. But if he’s receptive to listening, you can say simple things like, “I know it’s tough when mama doesn’t give you the snack…” Or “I can see that you’re upset…” Then, go ahead and still prepare his snacks for him. That way, you’re saying it’s okay to feel what he feels, but that everyone here can help pitch in, too.