5 Tips to Handle a Clingy Toddler

Is your child overly attached, refusing to leave your side? Learn 5 ways to help your clingy toddler feel comfortable alone or with others.

Clingy ToddlerMy clingy toddler refused to leave my side (even at home!) and shadowed me everywhere I went.

Getting a load of laundry done or tackling the dishes in the sink felt like a miracle. He’d scream if someone else so much as extended their arms to give him a hug. And socializing with other kids in a play date or family party didn’t help at all.

On one hand, having a toddler cling to your side can be an ego boost, a bit of reassurance that he has a secure attachment. But boy, does it get tiring after a while, especially when his clingy behavior came without warning.

Perhaps you can relate.

Maybe your toddler roots firmly to your lap, refusing to play with other kids at the park. Play dates and parties? Nope. She wants nothing to do with anyone but you. Even getting dad to pry her away doesn’t help—she wants you nearby within eyesight, and whines if you’re not.

It doesn’t help when she’s extra clingy right at bedtime when you’re ready to end the day. If you happen to be pregnant, too? It’s enough to muster the remaining patience you have.

So, what do you do if your toddler has separation anxiety and can’t bear to be apart from you? When—as horrible as you feel admitting it—you dread spending time with her?

Thankfully, my story had a happy ending, and I know yours will, too. As with most developmental stages, even challenging ones like dealing with a clingy toddler will come to pass. Many toddlers cling to their parents, even when every other child seems to do the opposite.

But that doesn’t mean you’re left waiting for her to stop being so attached, or wondering if something could be wrong. You can do plenty to reassure and ease her separation anxiety and make life much easier for both of you.

Here’s how:

1. Be mindful of new changes

Kids seem to behave extra clingy and attached for no reason, don’t they? They might’ve been fine all along when, out of nowhere, they refuse to leave our side. All those months of independence and being fine with others are gone, just like that.

Except I’ve found that many times, their behavior is tied to changes at home, both big and small.

Take stock of what’s going on around you for any changes. Did your toddler recently start a new school? Have you been working longer hours? Is she sick? Any of these factors can impact her behavior.

You see, she may not be able to explain that she feels anxious about adjusting to school—instead, she clings to your side and throws a tantrum. Digging deep into changes contributing to her behavior will help you be more patient and empathetic when she has a meltdown.

Then, establish consistency in whatever way you can. Maybe it’s doing the same rituals before daycare drop-off, or eating meals at the same times. Offer a lovey for comfort, and shower her with kisses at bedtime. The predictability of her daily life will help ease these clingy phases.

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2. Watch how you respond

It’s easy to feel impatient or get upset with your clingy child, but managing your response is so important. Avoid using a harsh tone, but do hold firm and don’t give in to unrealistic demands. You’re the one in charge of the situation.

Acting distressed or making a big deal will only make her feel like there’s something to dread when she is away from you. Instead, reassure her you’ll come back like you always have (and follow through when you say you will!). Your job is to be confident and reassuring, but firm.

3. Allow independence and autonomy

Your toddler will behave less clingy the more comfortable she is making her own decisions. This helps build her confidence to take action without your help all the time.

How? Encourage self-sufficiency and independence. Rearrange your home to make it easier to do things on her own. Allow her to make her snacks and show her where to find them. Make the items accessible in lower drawers instead of hidden and out of reach.

Kids love to help. Take advantage by asking them to help around the house! I like to give my boys a rag and ask them to “dust” the furniture. It’s a win-win for both of us. The house gets cleaner, I get a little breathing room, and they feel like they’re contributing to the family.

Independent Toddler

4. Encourage regular time with others

Up to this point, your toddler has grown used to you—and only you. Avoiding others to avert a meltdown may seem like the easier solution, but doing so only reinforces her belief that she should stay with you.

Instead, encourage regular time with other people to help her feel less anxious and more comfortable without you nearby.

Schedule regular time with your partner or other trusted adults in her life. Implement a weekly routine like Saturday afternoons with grandma or nighttime baths with dad. Encourage her to get used to being with other people besides you.

Stretching a notch above her comfort zone will ease her into feeling comfortable with others. The only way she can get used to being away from you is if she has plenty of opportunities to do so.

And avoid entertaining her unreasonable demands, even if she doesn’t want daddy and prefers you.

Otherwise, she learns that you’ll eventually cave in when she throws a fit. Or worse, that there is something wrong with having anyone else bathe her but you.

Toddler Doesn't Want Daddy

5. Allow your toddler to experience his feelings

Your toddler isn’t trying to be difficult. After all, he’s learning how to deal with big emotions without the full vocabulary to talk about how he feels.

Never punish him for his separation anxiety or push him to mingle with others when he doesn’t feel like it. Instead, show empathy for how he feels and reassure him that everyone feels this way sometimes. That you would also feel the same if you were in his shoes. Give him the little extra support he needs.

Don’t make him feel shame or distress for having a hard time being away from you or for not playing with other kids. He might be introverted and quiet during this clingy toddler phase, but that also lends itself to rich imaginations and the ability to see his world in a creative way.

Make him feel heard and understood, even with the uncertainty or unfamiliarity of his environment. You’ve been his secure base since he was an infant. Validate his feelings as part of normal child development so he’ll be able to flourish on his own.


Clinginess can be difficult for any parent, especially if you need a break, have a new sibling coming, or are exhausted from being the only one your toddler prefers.

Ease her into feeling comfortable with other people. Be reassuring yet firm, encouraging her to try things on her own. Think about looming life changes that make it hard for her to separate. Pencil in time for her to play with other children and adults. And above all, make her feel heard and supported.

Continue to build on a strong relationship, conveying your confidence in her whenever you’re apart. It’ll go a long way in helping her become the independent toddler she can be.

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  1. Hi Nina,

    I am going through really tough time and hoping if you could provide me with some guidance. I am mother to a strong-willed 2.5 year old girl. She was super-clingy to me (literally like glue) from the age 15 months to around 2 years. She would not go to other people, did not play on her own at all, wanted me to sit with her all the time and was horrible at social gatherings.

    Slowly things got better at her second birthday, she became very social, going to even strangers, playing on her own, letting me cook and do household chores and even letting me go to work without much fuss. I finally saw light at the end of a dark, long tunnel.

    But since last 1 month, things have gone downhill alarmingly. My daughter is back to square one. Does not play on her own at all, cries crazy when I leave the room, follows me around like shadow, even in parks and social events, clings to my side, does not let her dad bathe her (which she loved earlier), has started shying from people she has known all her life and has loved to the core. Lately she talks like a baby and tells me that she is not a big girl but is a baby. If I am even a little stern with her, she says mumma say you love me and keeps on repeating it even after I have said it 10 times. At home or in parks, she asks me to pick her up and carry her all the time. She cries inconsolably when I leave for work or when she goes to preschool. I get live feed of her school and do not see anything wrong over there. At school, she takes about half an hour to settle before participating in games/ activities.Every evening, she cries for me at school half an hour before our usual pick up time.

    I am really worried. While everyone is telling me it is a phase, I feel like she has been through this phase earlier! She overcame it! Why is it happening again? And why my girl? I feel horrible to say that I dread alone time with her as she drives me crazy.

    Do you have any advise on this? Does she need consultation? My husband thinks she doesn’t and that she will grow out of this phase. I am finding it difficult to be patient.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I can definitely see why you’re finding it difficult to be patient! And it seems like you’ve checked all that you could and can’t seem to pinpoint it. I would speak to her teachers to see how she behaves in class after you’ve gone. See if she’s miserable the whole day, or if she’s able to adjust eventually. I would also ask her pediatrician to see if he or she has any recommendations, especially based on her history or any other signs that they might be able to tell.

      From a basic overview, I would see if you could put your foot down and not entertain her whims and fancies. For instance, if it’s dad’s turn to bathe her, then it’s dad’s turn to bathe, even if she’s crying the whole time. Otherwise, she learns two bad messages: first, that she can throw a fit and eventually you’ll cave in, and second, that she’ll start to believe that it IS right for only you to bathe her and no one else.

      Hopefully it IS a phase, and that by being consistent and putting your foot down, she can begin to feel less clingy. You might also want to praise her for any little thing she does that shows signs of independence, so she learns that this is behavior you encourage.

  2. Alexandria says:

    My daughter is a year and a half old and doesnt seem to want anything other than to be held by me all the time and i have no idea why something has changed for her at home and i have no idea what to do because i cant do anything when she is awake because she always asks to be held and i refuse to deny her what she wants when it comes to comfort and she has been doing it for months

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Alexandria! It’s understandable she’s being more and more clingy because like you said you continue to hold her when she wants it, even when it may not be a good time for it. She’s grown used to the habit and the expectation that she’ll be held because the habits are there to reinforce it. I would let her know that there are times when you can’t or won’t hold her, so that she can also explore on her own and learn how to cope with disappointment and learn to self-regulate.

  3. Hi Nina,

    I just read your post because I was desperately looking for some testimonies of people going through the same as me. I also have a clingy child, but mine is also hyperactive, and bites/aggresses her sisters.
    Zoe as a newborn was super chilled. I used to feel like she doesn’t need me at all. But also I must confessed that I struggled to bond with her. One of the reason for that is that she is one of a pair of twins, and having twins was a tsunami in my life. It took me a long time to accept that reality. The other reason why I would struggle to bond with her is : unknown… I can’t really explain it. I would feel very guilty about it. It has dramatically improved though. HSe is so very endearing, funny, entertaining and clever little bug.
    Zoe has always had this tension in her. In her whole body. She is super clingy. When I come back from work I can’t do anything else than addressing her. She needs to be “up” in your arms or she will scream. She doesn’t want her dad, just me.
    I know that biting is a way to express her emotions when she feels overwhelmed. The thing is, she is now 18 months, and I have tried so many things to make this biting stop, that I recently slid and got more aggressive and shouting. To a point that I smacked her once or twince already and shouted at her. It all comes from feeling powerless and unable to protect my other twin who is always targeted and victim of her agressions and her big sister who is 4 and is also being bitten and pinched and all.
    I am desperate for help, I feel like I am slowly sliding toward a vicious pattern where I am being aggressive toward her, which makes her be even more clingy and aggressive toward her sisters.
    It is SO HARD mum to be a mother of 3. At least this how I personally experience it. I feel immensely frustrated. For them, for me. To compromise on quality, to not be able to devote more time to each of them. And I am quite lucky that my elder is an amazing big sister, and that my other twin is so low maintenance. Sometimes I feel resentful toward Zoe that she prevents me from taking care of her other sisters.
    I am tired of this situation. What type of specialist could help me? Or a group? I need tips and support to navigate this. I don’t want to be a dragon mum. It hurts my babies and it hurts my husband … and myself.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Nanou, first off, big hugs <3 It's normal to feel the way you do, from the guilt to the frustration. I've learned that sometimes, the more attention we give the behavior, the more it will happen. One thing you can try is to highlight the positives in all your children. For instance, if Zoe is behaving well, point that out. It's also okay to enjoy the time with the other two instead of giving attention to Zoe's misbehavior. A lot of behavior is a pattern or habit that has been developed over time, so she might assume that this is how she should behave, or that this is how it simply is. By changing the pattern and habits, you can "rewrite" a different way for her to behave.

      Also, if she bites, try to acknowledge why she bit. Did her sister grab a toy? Is she tired? Does she need attention? That way, you can say, "It looks like you're tired. It's hard to behave when we're tired, but we don't bite—that hurts other people. You wouldn't like it if she bit you. The next time you feel mad or tired, you can hold your lovey or come tell me." I hope that helps!

  4. Jolomi Yvonne Alele says:

    Hello Nina.

    I have a 2year and 2 month old and honestly worried sick about him. First off he’s been quite slow with his speech, he knows a ton of words, would count 1 to 20, Say his ABC to Z, but would not put his words together. He only recently started calling me mummy. His cousins came to visit, a 4, 2 and 1 year old. He played with them just for a few minutes the first night but after that has been so clingy to me. We don’t have a lot of relatives around so he’s used to just me and dad. I was looking forward to them visiting because I really wanted to see him socialise, but nope! He wouldn’t! He’s not this clingy when it’s just us at home. I’m just so worried He isn’t playing much with other kids.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Jolomi! I’m guessing he’s extra clingy with you *because* there are other people there. Things are different, so he clings to what is familiar, which is you. I’d say that that behavior is normal, but it’s always good to double check with your pediatrician about concerns you may have with his development.

  5. Hi Nina,
    Thanks for the pointers, I can see that I am.not alone in this and I am hopedul find solution to.my problem now. My dauhhter will turn 3 in two months. She is a wonderful daughter who enjoys all her activities but only with me nearby. I am a single.parent and she was born when the pandemic started. She is a preterm baby and was in NICU for 40 days before I bought her home. At that time I was going through a lot emotionally and she has seen me getting frustrated. The divorce was also not easy. It took alot of patience to come to this place where I am at peace now. I can say the initial 6 months of my babies have been stressful with her mom constantly under stress, tired amd fatigue.

    The journey has been better after that once I came out of that situation and had been living with my parents since then. My daughter wants to.play with me all the time. She doesnt let me even cook and asks me sit with her and play. She is becoming little better socialising with others when I go out. I want to help my child in feeling secured and confident. Is this because of her early months where she was in NICU and away from her mother. How do I help her? I keep.reinforcing and sometimes I am firm too but she still is not learning it. please help me

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Sharmin, I’m sorry to hear all that you’ve gone through during what should have been a joyful, if not exhausting, part of your baby’s first few months. I’m not entirely sure whether those experiences have led to her being extra clingy, but I would continue to reinforce boundaries as needed and help her get used to being with other adults. You can also gradually ease her away in increments—for instance, instead of sitting on your lap while you read, she can sit next to you. Then the next day, see if she’ll sit a few feet away while you both read books. And once she’s comfortable with that, you can try cooking in the kitchen while she plays several feet away, etc.

  6. My oldest is 3 and my husband and I have been having major power struggles with our little guy almost everyday the past few weeks. He has a very strong personality and can be so stubborn at times. We also have an eight month old boy that is sweet as can be and so easy, thank goodness, but I find it so hard to balance the two of them when my oldest is SO DEMANDING of me and wanting my complete attention ALL OF THE TIME. My husband does his best to give me the time I need and want with my youngest, but sometimes it is a battle that is a losing one. I know that this stems a lot from discipline and all of that, but how do I get my oldest to understand that he HAS to share mommy and that I also have responsibilities I have to do, too? He has to be with me everywhere I go and “help” me with everything that I do, usually making me carry him doing everything like cooking, cleaning, using the restroom, etc. We are just at a loss when he completely loses his cool and starts throwing things, slamming doors, screaming.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      t’s definitely tough having your child cling to you every second. One strategy is to first make sure that you hold your ground and not cave in when he throws a fit about wanting you. Let’s say you have to wash the dishes, but he insists that you keep him company instead of dad. Let him know that you’re washing dishes and that dad can play with him, and don’t stop washing the dishes even if he throws a fit. Instead, have dad comfort and be there for him while he’s upset.

      Later, when he’s calm again, talk about how he feels. Acknowledge how he wants you, and that you also like spending time with him. Let him know though your expectations, like you needing to get things done, and dad wanting to spend time with him. It’ll take time and he might still throw a fit, but by talking about it when he’s calm (not when he’s having a fit) you can help him better understand the situation.

  7. My son wants to be held all the time. He can’t help it because I’ve been holding him since he was a baby. But now he is 1 and it hurts my back. I don’t mind it but I would like to have my time with him but without holding him. Any advice?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I can imagine how difficult and painful it is to carry your son all the time. It’s one thing if they’re babies, but another when they’re growing bigger and heavier.

      I agree that he’s likely gotten used to it from having been carried all this time. Sometimes the best way to break an old habit is to create a new one, even if the initial transition is difficult. Maybe that’s pushing him in a stroller, encouraging him to walk while you hold his hand, or playing on a fun, soft blanket while you sit next to him.

      The more you hold your ground and establish the new rules, the quicker he’ll realize that this is how it will be, and that it’s actually okay to not be carried all the time.