July 02, 2015

Q: My daughter is so attached to me that she will whine or cry if I am not constantly holding her. Is this normal and what can I do to help her AND MYSELF?

A: Children go through "clingy" phases when they are developing new skills. Sometimes, she wakes up and has a totally new skill to try out and master. Just think of how exciting -- and scary -- it might be if all of a sudden if that happened to us. For instance, what if you woke up one morning and found you could fly? That's how it feels for your child. Challenging, exciting -- and sometimes terrifying!

Starting at about 9 months, babies start to become mobile -- and it scares them. But the fear spurs them on to communicate more with you, in order to get reassurance as they're exploring new things. So, crawling, walking, talking, and clinging are all related. This clinginess comes and goes throughout the first 2-3 years of your baby's life.

What's a parent to do to survive having a little "Cling-On"?

  • Provide a stable and reliable "base" for your baby to return to when she gets scared. This won't make her "spoiled" -- it will actually make her more confident over time.
  • Plan your activities knowing your baby might make it difficult to get anything else done. Don't be overly ambitious in your plans -- focus for now on baby. Some days, she'll be less clingy, and you can catch up on your "to do" list then.
  • However, there will be times when baby's needs must take a backseat, and that's OK too. Explain to her that when it's time to prepare dinner or get some take care of an errand, she's OK. Use your words for comfort when you can't constantly hold her. Show her by example that sometimes, Mommy is busy -- and sometimes, it's her turn for attention.
  • Experiment with a "baby backpack." Babies like to be close to you, and having them on your back allows you the freedom to get things done, even in the house.
  • Ask for help. Arrange to trade a toddler playdate with a friend so that you can get a morning away, ask for help from a family member, or hire a sitter. YOUR needs are important, too. Always explain to baby that you'll be going away for a little while, but you'll be back. Never sneak away. And give her big praise and lots of attention when you return!

Answered by Dr. Heather Wittenberg