This mum struggled with her suddenly needy two-year-old, until she learned these simple truths…
So there I was last week — sick with an endless cold, exhausted from a cross-country holiday trip, and pregnant, when my 2-year-old turned into a 16kg leech. Every waking moment he demanded that I hold him in my arms –standing, never sitting, as if my love weren’t real unless my biceps were burning. When I would run downstairs to get him a glass of milk or grab my iPhone, he would insist on being ferried along on my hip. Awesomely, my husband wasn’t allowed to help. I was apparently the only person on earth who could read to my son, sing to him, change his diaper, give him a bath, make his dinner, hand him his water, and strap him into his car seat. I’m not going to tell you what it’s been like dropping him off at school, because I’m trying to block out the memories.
During these fun-filled days I’ve periodically asked myself: WTF? My son does this sometimes — becomes a Cling Monster. It’ll last a few days, even up to a week. And I never know whether I should indulge his every demand or whether, at some point, I should give him a pat on the back, tell him to man up, and grit my teeth through the screamy consequences. I wonder whether there is anything I can to do make the neediness stop once it starts. I wonder: Is there something wrong with him? And then, of course, I wonder: Is there anything wrong with me? Is there anything I am doing to cause all this?
As I like to do when something parenting-related (or in this case, my child) is nagging me, I did some research and called a handful of child psychologists. And as it turns out, periodic clinginess is very normal -- in fact, it’s a sign that you and your child have a healthy relationship. Some kids are also just more temperamentally needy than others. But the way parents handle clinginess can have a big impact on how long it lasts and how bad it becomes. And sometimes, yes, we do actually cause it ourselves. To avoid becoming that parent, read on.
First, the reassuring stuff. Clingy behavior, as renowned University of Minnesota attachment researcher Alan Sroufe explained to me, is absolutely natural. Evolutionary even. Back when our ancestors were climbing trees and jumping across rocks and escaping predators as hunter-gatherers, their babies and toddlers literally clung on to them for support and protection. “Clinging in primates, especially nomadic primates, is a very important behavior to have,” Sroufe says.
Clinginess is ultimately a sign that your child considers you what attachment researchers call “a secure base.” Babies and toddlers who have developed secure attachments with caregivers -- who have come to trust, through prior experience, that these adults are available and sensitive to their needs -- use these caregivers as mother ships from which to explore the world. “Knowing that you have someone to return to in times of trouble fosters the ability to go out and explore and do things,” says Jude Cassidy, a psychologist and attachment expert at the University of Maryland. When things get scary or unpredictable, your toddler comes back to you and essentially says, Hey, I need a little extra support here. (Or, as my son puts it, “Pick me uuuuup!”) Securely attached toddlers waffle between these two extremes of independence and dependence, which is why your kid will be latching on to you one second and then telling you to go away the next.