There have been plenty of times when one, or both, of my kids have been "clingy." Usually it's when they're learning a new skill, in a new place, and are feeling incredibly self-conscious. For the most part my kids aren't "clingy" for too long, and as they've grown more and more independent they've relied on me less and less for comfort and security. I've also learned that there are more than a few things that won't actually make your kid clingy, too, and that knowledge has helped me feel more capable of parenting my children in a way that benefits them and their unique needs.
I am confident enough to admit that I used to be an unapologetic "helicopter mom." So trust me when I say that my kids had all the opportunity in the world to become the clingiest kids to ever cling. But they didn't. If anything, the way I chose to raise my children has contributed to their consistent need for independence. Because here's the thing: children require a lot of things. Yes, boundaries are important, but so is being there for your kids so they can have the comfort, love, affection, security, and safety they need in order to feel safe enough to venture out into their new, ever-expanding worlds. I'm not creating cling-on monsters if I am there for my children. I'm preparing them to handle the world, and all that it entails, when I'm not.
Fostering a sense of independence, and allowing your children the space and room to grow and learn on their own, is important. But so is being their port in the storm. So with that in mind, here's everything you can give, unconditionally, to your kids that doesn't contribute to how clingy they may, or may not, be:
Paying Attention To Them
There's an old wive's tale that suggests giving your kids too much attention will spoil them. Yeah, that's not true.
In fact, research supports the opposite ideology, especially when your child is still experiencing their baby and toddler years. A study by Alan Stroufe via the University of Minnesota found that in ignoring your child's needs can actually contribute to clinginess, not prevent it. Of all the times I paid attention to my kids, it didn't make them cling to me, but it did help them gain the confidence they need to go out into the world.
Showing A Lot Of Affection
If you have a baby, there's no such thing as "too much affection." Newborns need a lot of it, actually, so the sky is literally the limit. So if you're a new parent and you'er worried that giving your kid too many hugs or cuddles or kisses might stunt their independence, worry no more. I hug my kids more times than I can count in a day, and they're independent beings.
You shouldn't use your affection in ways that manipulate your baby's dependence on you for their basic needs (food, love, comfort), but Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and best-selling author of over 30 parenting books, told Parenting that, "babies who seem the most dependent early on often turn out to be the most securely independent as they get older." Dr. Spears goes on to add that dependency is a natural stage of development, because it helps babies "form lasting relationships as adults." You're their foundation. If they trust you'll love them, it's be easier for your children to eventually form relationships with others. Basically, don't withhold affection fear of feeding their clinginess.
Being There For Them When They Need You
Again, to echo Dr. Sears' advice, being the one your kid runs to isn't a bad thing. The technique called "attachment parenting" (coined by Dr. Sears) is the idea of utilizing the instinctual approach of bonding with baby by "attaching" mom and baby through continuous empathy, closeness, and touch.
There's no better way for your little one to create lasting future relationships with others, than by witnessing how you've done the same for and with them.
James McKenna, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, tells The Bump that, "sharing your room with baby is said to help her senses develop. Babies need to learn to respond to the sensory signals of others, including smells, movements, sounds, touches and heat."
In other words, co-sleeping won't make your kid clingy. It might help them build a relationship with you, and develop "sensory distinctions," but it won't make them co-dependent people when they're older.
Holding Them When They Want To Be Held
When your child is living that baby life, feel free to hold them as much as you can. It's not going to make them any clingier or needier, but it should help them establish a level of trust between the two of you. Your baby will know that they can rely on you for comfort, and that knowledge is an important and necessary building block in their development.
Baby Wearing International promotes being close to your baby and holding them often, through the use of baby-wearing products. The organization goes on to say all that closeness leads to less crying and happier, healthier babies.
I've always picked up my kids when they asked, not to "spoil" them but because there was something they needed from me — usually comfort or guidance. Wanting to be picked up is usually a sign of an internal sense of insecurity regarding the world around them. So, unless you're creating the anxiety within them by preemptively picking them up for no reason, hold that babe of yours often.
According to BabyCenter, extended breastfeeding may actually help a child foster a sense of independence, instead of co-dependence:
"As your child becomes more self-reliant, breastfeeding can be an important source of reassurance and emotional support. The strong connection your child feels with you while nursing will foster independence, not make him overly dependent or clingy, as some may have you believe."
In fact, Kathleen Huggins, author of The Nursing Mother's Companion, tells BabyCenter that "forcing a child to stop nursing before he's developmentally ready won't necessarily create a more confident child – it could even make him more clingy."
Staying When You Should Go
If you have the chance to go out, but as the time approaches your kid wants you to stay behind, it's OK. It might seem like giving in to their whines and cries will make them clingy, but it could actually promote more independence.
Jude Cassidy, a psychologist and attachment expert at the University of Maryland, tells Slate that your child wants to know you're their "secure base." When they know you're there for them, it's that much easier for them to explore their surroundings and relationships with others. If you were to consistently leave without acknowledging their separation anxiety, or the reasons behind it, they might be more likely to have problems with independence and attachment.
The bottom line? Feeling attached to your kid, and vice versa, isn't a bad thing or indicitive of a potential co-dependent relationship in the future. If you want to build trust, be there for your kid early and often. It sounds counter-intuitive, but to prevent clinginess, be your kids' go-to port in the storm from day one.
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