Development FAQ: 24+ months – The Social Toddler

My 2-year-old daughter is very clingy. When we go to friend’s houses she’ll sit on my lap the whole time, while the other children her age play. (I don’t try and force her to integrate as I feel that could be damaging). I dread to think how she’s going to react if I try and leave her in the crèche that she’s booked into for our ski holiday in January next year. I also worry that it will be very hard for her when she starts nursery school, or if a new baby arrives. Naturally, her dependence on me leads me feeling hopelessly guilty (about returning to work, or leaving her with anyone else). After all, there must be a reason why’s she’s lacking confidence and clinging to me. Or is it just regular, contrary 2-year old behavior? Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do?

I do think that some children, particularly those of a more sensitive nature, do go through a clingy stage around this age. The important thing is not to feel guilty or believe that it is something which you are doing wrong that is making her behave in this way. It is much better to put your energy into giving her lots of love and reassurance, and ensuring that you take some positive action to help your daughter overcome her clinginess.

I think that for a couple of weeks it would be advisable to arrange smaller play dates with only one or two other mothers and children. This might be better than taking her to larger groups where she may feel intimidated or threatened by children who are more confident and boisterous. It sometimes helpful to have a child slightly older than her own age, since she/he will already learned the skills of sharing and playing together. It is also important that when you first start doing this that you and the other mum join in the play with your children, instead of just watching them. For some children playing does not always come naturally and is something that they have to learn. This is often easier for them if done in smaller groups. Once your daughter becomes happy to play alongside you in a smaller group situation her confidence will increase and she should become less clingy. You can then start to leave the room for short spells, gradually increasing the time you are out of the room, by a few minutes at a time.

Another good way of helping prepare your daughter for playing with other children, is encouraging role-play games with her teddies and dollies. Try creating a character for each of her teddies and dollies – the funny one, the noisy one etc; and one who is a bit shy and does not play with the other teddies and dollies. For example Barney the Bear is a bit shy, particularly when Tommy the Tiger is around. But you talk to Barney and explain that Tommy is a bit of a rascal and too noisy at times, but he’s a nice tiger really. As you encourage Barney and Tommy to play together, give Barney lots of encouragement saying how clever he is and such a good boy playing with Tommy. Include your daughter in the role-play, by saying things like “doesn’t Barney look really happy today playing with Tommy, and what a clever big boy he is”. Do a star chart for Barney so that each day your daughter can see how much fun Barney’s life is becoming as he starts to play with the other toys more.

This will prepare your daughter for the introduction of a star chart when you start and take her back to larger groups settings. She will have learnt through the role play with her toys, that play dates can be lots of fun.

When dealing with this problem it is important to remember that it is just another stage in her development, it is not a reflection of how her whole life is going to be. Try not to feel guilty, or that you are doing something wrong. Children of this age are so sensitive, and if you approach each play date feeling anxious, she will most certainly pick up on it and become even clingier. It may take a little time, but try to stay relaxed about her clinginess. Having watched so many children of the age go through the stage, I can assure you that things will improve.