As much as a clingy child can be adorable and endearing and validating, they can also be, you know, a pain in the ass. They can also be downright embarrassing, especially when we're trying to prove to friends and family that you're raising well-adjusted human being (which they are, most of the time). When we want some space or we're trying to accomplish something or we simply don't want to be tugged on for hours on end, a clingy child can be an inconvenience, but there are times when you should pay attention to your child's clinginess, because it could mean something potentially serious that requires your attention.
I remember when my son started daycare, last fall. He took over my daughter's spot, as she was just starting kindergarten, and I assumed that all would be well after the short transition period ended. He was well-adjusted and used to being taken care of by friends and family (occasionally), and we knew my daughter had enjoyed the daycare. After two months at the daycare, he was still crying when dropped off, and would burst into tears and come running to my husband or I when we picked him up. It was odd, but we didn't know what to make of it. After child care regulations were changed in our area, and my son was suddenly "let go" from the daycare (don't get me started), we were forced to find a new place. We found what seemed like a nice daycare and enrolled my son, and after one week of crying at drop off, he was happy. Smiling when we mentioned daycare, waving and laughing when we picked him up; a totally different kid.
All of this is to say that sometimes, and especially during the following six times, you really need to pay attention to your kid's clinginess. They are probably trying to tell you something that they don't have the words for yet.
When They're Being Exposed To A New Situation
It's important for children to feel safe in new situations, and the best way for them to do that is to check in with you, their parent.
When They're Going Through A New Developmental Stage
I always find my youngest needing me more when he's hitting some new milestone. Giving them support as they go through it can help the transition along faster, or at least boost their confidence.
When They've Started A New Daycare
Obviously we want a daycare that's convenient for us, but not at the expense of our child. It's natural for kids to need some adjustment time when they first start at a daycare, but if the clinginess persists, it may be time to check in.
When They've Just Started Kindergarten
This can be a hard transition for any kid! Some kids will act out, others will get clingy, and it's hard to tell what type of kid yours will be until the time comes and you're both in that situation. Regardless, it's a good idea to check in with them to see how the adjustment is going, especially when you notice that they're more clingy.
When They Sense That Something Is Going On Behind The Scenes
Kids are smarter and more observant than we give them credit for, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they're capable of at least sensing even the most adult of situations. If something's going down (be it a separating or a divorce or a death in the family or, literally, any situation at all) your kid may become clingy or act out. Time to pay attention and level with them.
When They Notice That You're Upset
I remember when I was struggling with perinatal depression during my second pregnancy, and had moments when I just couldn't handle parenting a challenging two-year-old. My daughter would have these screaming meltdowns, and at that point, if she just wouldn't stop, I would begin to cry, too. I could tell my daughter didn't know what to make of her mother crying, and she would crawl over to me and hug me tightly, because let's face it: when the center of your universe is upset, that's scary.