3-Year-Old Attached to Mom? Here’s What to Do

Is your 3-year-old attached to mom too much? Learn how to handle excessive attachment when your child is clingy to one parent.

3-Year-Old Attached to MomSometimes, a strong attachment to mom isn’t always a blessing. Take the case when my then-3-year-old was attached to 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. Instead, he preferred I do everything, from feeding to bathing and even hanging out. Dropping him off at child care was a struggle, since he’d cry and try to run after me as I said goodbye and walked toward the exit.

And when I’d be busy with something, he’d get angry and upset, adding to my already-depleted patience and attention. It made me wonder… Can kids be too attached to their moms?

What to do when your 3-year-old is attached to mom

As understanding as you try to be, having a 3-year-old attached can be problematic for the entire family. Maybe your child is extremely attached to you, wanting to be around you all the time. He demands your full attention every minute of the day and wants you to comfort him when he’s upset.

He wants mommy for everything, from changing his clothes to reading books and tucking him in at bedtime. Meanwhile, when your partner makes a simple request or offer, he runs into your arms crying. But if you make the same request, he willingly complies with zero tears.

To make matters worse, he rarely plays on his own, and doesn’t really have a secure attachment to any toy. He’d rather be by your side than spend time with his siblings.

No wonder you’re worried you’re doing something wrong, or unsure that you’re not being firm enough. How can you address his clinginess and teach him to be more accepting of other people’s offers to help?

As difficult as this is right now, know that this behavior is normal child development and won’t last forever. Not only that, you can take certain steps to make that transition smoother and easier. Take a look at what to do to help your overly attached child take to other adults in his life:

when a child is overly attached to one parent

1. Don’t make your child feel guilty

For any parent who has felt “shunned” by his or her child, it’s understandable that this extra attachment can feel discouraging. It’s not easy for your partner to put in so much effort to spend time with your child, only to be rejected over and over. Never mind if he can’t do much about work hours or his schedule.

Still, the last thing you want to do is to make your child feel guilty, or that she’s hurting dad’s feelings. She’s entitled to her feelings and shouldn’t be punished for experiencing them. Show empathy and focus on taking action on nurturing a strong relationship with dad—where he’s a secure base as well.

That said, while you respect your child’s feelings, let her know you can’t always accommodate them. Just because she can feel sad for wanting mom to feed her, that doesn’t mean that you’ll drop everything you’re doing when dad is available to do so.

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2. Don’t deny your child a chance to spend time with others

Part of the reason your child continues to be attached is that he doesn’t have many opportunities to spend time with others. Sometimes, this is your lifestyle: your partner might work long hours while you’re the primary caregiver who’s home with him all day.

But other times, they don’t get the opportunity to be with each other because you’re there all the time.

It might be easier to step in the minute he 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 your partner and to “practice” a routine that works for them.

You can also involve dad with household chores more regularly. It’ll help if he does the same tasks, like bathing every night or feeding your child breakfast every morning. That way, your 3-year-old knows that both parents are as capable.

And finally, have dad take him out for quality time. Instead of you stepping out of the house, encourage the both of them to do something fun out and about as well. They can go to the park, grab smoothies, or take a swim at the pool. Allow to the opportunity to create a special bond between the two of them.

Get tips on how to involve dads at home.

3. Don’t give your child a preference

I’m normally a fan of choices (“Do you want to wear the red shorts or the blue ones?”). But with a 3-year-old attached to mom and no one else, giving him a choice isn’t always the best idea.

While choices do empower and give him a voice, save it for matters where you’re okay with either option. Giving him a choice of who he wants to read books with means that he’ll choose mom every time. This doesn’t exactly give others the chance to be with him at all.

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

Yes, you’ll see tears and tantrums, but consider it a temporary hassle for long-term gains. Over time, his attitude can change, and you can even praise him for good behavior. In the meantime, giving in to every meltdown only reinforces the clingy behavior (and the results) you don’t want to see.

Learn 5 mistakes parents make when giving kids choices.

Giving Choices

4. Don’t correct your partner in front of your child

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

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

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

Avoid correcting your partner at all, or if you really need to, do so in private. It’s okay if he doesn’t give your child her usual snacks, or gives her the red blanket, not the green one. Your child probably won’t mind, and if she does, then this becomes a great opportunity for dad to learn.

But allow that to happen on its own, not by correcting him 24/7.

Learn why “dad bashing” needs to stop.

5. Don’t talk poorly about dad

Whether said in jest or not, comments and complaints about your partner can be making matters worse. Sure, you’re entitled to your own feelings, and especially after an argument, you may not be feeling so positive about him.

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

After all, if it seems like dad hurt you, she won’t want the same to happen to her. The next time dad 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 to your young child. 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.

Learn how to work through parenting disagreements.

6. Encourage your child’s independence

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

For instance, she might prefer that you—and not dad—do everything for her, from putting on her shoes to grabbing her 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.

Get more tips on how to raise an independent toddler.

Independent Toddler


As reassuring as it is to have a 3-year-old attached to mom, being super attached isn’t always a good feeling for anyone involved. By being mindful of certain practices, you can help him better adjust to other adults in his life.

To start, don’t give him a preference (especially when there isn’t one), or make him feel guilty for how he feels. Don’t correct or talk poorly about dad, particularly in front of him. Instead, give him plenty of time to spend with dad, and encourage independence so he doesn’t rely on either of you so much.

A healthy attachment is certainly a blessing—in most cases. For the times when he’s too attached, now you have the steps to help him take to other adults besides you.

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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.

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