Clingy toddler? Advice from Babble’s Parental Advisory, by the “From the Hips” experts.

I have one child, a twenty-one-month-old daughter, and she is the clingiest child on the planet. I am a very non-touchy, rational, almost stoic person, and this child wears her heart on her sleeve. Kind of like my mother-in-law. I know this is a personality issue that I am going to have to face increasingly as she gets older – like in ten years when she’s wailing over a pimply-faced boy who doesn’t like her back – but it drives me to drink sometimes (figuratively speaking). Here’s my question: is there anything I can do to increase my needy child’s independence? To make her more secure, more autonomous, more . . . well, like me? There’s only so much I can change myself. – I’m Rubber, She’s Glue

Dear Rubber,

This question touches on that pesky truism that gets in the way of the best-laid parenting plans: a child has a mind (personality, temperament, disposition, attitude, whatever you want to call it) of her own. Though there’s certainly room for parents to make an impact, positive or negative, we’re all born with emotional traits as well as physical ones. As an appeal to your stoic sensibility, we’re going to lay this out in a very logical fashion.

Rational Thought #1: Babies are needy. At twenty-one months, her clinginess may be a biological, developmental necessity. She probably gets tired walking after a short time. She may want to be up near your face to be sure you can understand her newfound language. She may be dealing with the totally normal separation anxiety that comes with rampant skill acquisition. And of course she wears her heart on her sleeve: she wouldn’t know how to control her emotions even if she wanted to. If she were six and wouldn’t let go of your leg, that might be different. But she’s not six. She’s not even two. Being impatient with a one-year-old who wants to be held is a bit like being annoyed with a one-year-old who can’t keep pace with you on the sidewalk.

Rational Thought #2: Your daughter is not your mother-in-law. Following the above logic, there is no reason to predict a lifetime of pathetic whimpering over boys, your husband included. Let your daughter’s personality develop before saddling her with unfavorable traits.

Rational Thought #3: There is no recipe for independence. While encouraging a child to achieve self-sufficiency is a major theme in American parenting literature, the strategies espoused are so radically different, they effectively cancel each other out. One camp discourages an excess of cuddly, “soothing” behavior from a very early age to teach the child to rely on herself rather than her parents for comfort. The other camp insists that the more physical reassurance you give a baby/toddler, the more confident the kid will become. According to this logic, your stoic attitude may actually be encouraging some clinginess.

At any rate, you didn’t make a clone, you made a baby. She is who she is, and the way she’s acting right now is totally on target for a person her age. (A stoic toddler might actually be cause for worry.) But if it turns out that your daughter is indeed a “hugger” by nature, you’d be much better off trying to adapt to her temperament than resisting it. Otherwise, it may become more of a problematic fixture in your relationship than it needs to be. You don’t need to learn to love Nora Ephron movies or hug it out in the workplace, but you do need to accept that your daughter is different from you, and from your mother-in-law, and from all the girls you knew in junior high who ran through boxes of tissues after every breakup. It might make sense, in fact, to do some thinking about why the idea of clinginess drives you so very crazy. Because just as there’s only so much you can change yourself, there’s only so much you can change your kid.

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Article Posted 10 years Ago

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