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How to handle a clingy child

By Karen Holford 1 min read
Thursday, August 13, 2020

Q: How do I get my clingy 19-month-old to detach from mum and a bit more onto dad? If I'm unavailable, he's fine, but I'm his preference. Dad is doing his best to meet our toddler's needs but he just isn't interested!

It’s quite normal for toddlers to become clingy to one of their parents. If he hasn’t always been clingy, think back to when it started and see if that gives you any clues about why he’s become more clingy. Maybe Mum went away for a weekend, or she was sick for a while, or he was scared about something, or there was a change or loss in the family.

Sometimes a child will become more clingy to the parent they see the most because it becomes a habit, or to the one they see the least, because they want more closeness from them.

It sometimes helps if Dad can find exciting things to do with or around him, that will be so interesting and amazing that he can’t resist joining in. If you can bear it, ride it out until their need for closeness and attachment with Mum is filled up and he can move on, or grow out of it.

In the meantime, you are both caring so much and working really hard to shift the balance. Take care of each other and your own relationship, because it can be tiring to be the parent that he most wants to cling to, and sometimes sad for the parent that he doesn’t want to be with so much. Enjoy the fact that he is happy with Dad when Mum isn’t there, and that he doesn’t appear to be anxious. Those are positive signs! And most children will grow past this stage in a few months.


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Any advice given is general in nature and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and must not be relied upon as such. For any healthcare advice, always consult a healthcare practitioner.

Karen Holford has masters degrees in child psychology and family therapy, but the best learning about family and relationships has always been from her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the author of "52 Ways to Parent Happy Children".