My child won’t leave me alone! What to do?
Raise your hand if you have ever cried in frustration with your kids banging your bathroom door? Oh, of course, you love your children and still do get tired with your children following you everywhere. A friend of mine is having a hard time with her child following her everywhere. Little one follows her to the kitchen, dining space, garden, bathroom… Every waking moment he demands his mother. At times she cries in frustration, “My child won’t leave me alone! What to do?“
He requests the only person on the planet, his mother, to read, sing with him, change his diapers, pass him a water bottle, wipe his nose, play with him. If you are guessing maybe the father is not equally involved, stop. The father is dismissed by the toddler and not allowed to help.
Just in case you might be thinking if the child is shy, you have to watch when he plays outdoors. The mother is still not forgotten though he enjoys playground and friends. He would keep checking if his mother is in the same spot or at least nearby.
Whenever our call ends up with “My child won’t leave me alone! What to do?” I try to imagine a frustrated tired mother ripping her hair out.
Surely this friend of mine is not the only one to feel so.
Why your child follows you around?
Babies develop a sense of self with tender relationships. With time they grow with a desire to express themselves and soon leave an impact in their world. When they began crawling, walking, and assert their newfound independence. Children would move away but not separate from parents. They return to seek familiarity, comfort, and solace in the arms of parents.
Think deep before labeling a child as Clingy, maybe they are carving for more connection with parents.
Another label often thrown carelessly over young children is Attention-Seeker. Wonder if same people realize ever that probably the child is attachment seeking.
We, humans, are biologically wired to make strong attachments with parents. Be it during human’s caveman day or one surrounded with technology. Children’s brain is programmed to bond with parent and feel secure while exploring the world.
Kid’s brains are not fully developed. They are learning about themselves, their bodies, their emotions. They are yet to come up with words that exactly express their needs and feelings. Little people do have big emotions. All these leave them vulnerable and they depend on parents. When the same parent or adult dismisses the child as a clingy attention seeker, the child communicates louder.
Imagine if the child is forced to shut even after repetitive louder communication, would the child still feel loved? Can the child feel neither heard nor seen by parents? Further, if the child is shooed now can they still meet their emotional and attachment needs?
Are you sporting raised eyebrows now?
You might say, okay as a parent or primary caregiver you expect your baby to depend on you but yet at times it becomes suffocating. Said that, let’s have a look at other potential reasons that make your child seek attachment.
What are the other factors that make your child seek attachment so strongly?
One morning my 2 years old woke up while I was away for an hour. Though my husband was right next to him, he was inconsolable. I remember rushing back after a call from his father. Next 3 months we were glued. Every single waking moment. He even once wailed so loud when I went to finish the bathroom business that my next-door neighbor thought worst and rushed to help. Did I ever mention how grateful I am to have her nearby? Later my child mentioned how disappointed he was that he could join me in the loo. Imagine my poker face, I could hurt his sentiment by laughing out loud or calling him silly.
However, we worked on it, and soon the happiest boy of the block was back. It took time and effort but it was worth it.
Thinking about the reason why you think that your child is clingy or attention seeker.
Our soon to be 4 years old, Penguin still finds cute reasons to stay near me. We wake up almost 10 to 20 minutes apart. Brush together. Make breakfast and eat. Take a nature walk. Exercise. Dust home. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G together. Yet there are in between breaks when he plays on his own or with friends in the garden. Ride a bicycle with his father. Water plants independently.
Most days, I am free to take a walk around without him or read a book without bookmarking pages often. I do get my share of ME time. So, what works for us? That’s no secret it was always there until we accepted it. We discover other factors.
1. Need to Touch
A decade before parenthood, a friend once referred me a book. The five love languages by Gary Chapman. The author is a pastor and marriage counselor and has a theory that people show they are affecting in five main ways.
The five are languages of love are
- words of affirmation,
- other favor quality time,
- receiving gifts,
- acts of service,
- physical touch.
My child is a combination of two, he seeks words of affirmation and physical touch. He loves to cuddle, kiss, hug, and listen to how much I love him or how he makes me happy, or positive words go on and on.
As I cook a meal, he would come next to me to show off his building blocks tower. All I have to do is kneel down and give him a hug saying how much effort he had taken to create it. End with a high five. We often take 2 minutes to hug break in between activities, reading, and tea parties with all dolls.
2. Fear of being abandoned
As mentioned earlier, due to the small incident of not finding me my child was afraid. He felt abandoned. He refused to leave me for weeks. The sense of being abandoned haunted him for so long. The abandonment fears triggered fear in him along with mistrust.
Separation anxiety is common in children. That goes away as a child grows up during the early years of childhood.
A similar one is stranger anxiety. That’s when a child gets upset around people they don’t know. It can happen around 6 months and usually starts to wear off as they turn one.
Logically these anxieties are a normal, a part of the development and are nothing to be troubled about. As a child starts moving, exploring, these anxieties turn out a survival perception. So, if the child would crawl or cruise or walk away from their parents without fear of separation or strangers, he/she can get lost more easily.
3. Disturbance in routine life
We, humans, are creatures of routine. We develop habits as we grow and deep root them with time. So, what happens when we have a change in routine or have no fixed routine? We tend to stay off the edge, act cranky, and stay volatile. What if all this is happening with a young child, a baby or a toddler, or a pre-schooler? They are yet to understand all emotions, might have pent up frustration, resulting in big blow tantrums.
That’s the reason experts often talk about the importance of routine for kids. The routine structures a child’s day. It prepares the child for the upcoming events or activities of the day. Further, the routine, we prefer the word “rituals”, helps the child to develop a sense of stability and security.
A parent can always create a morning ritual or night-time ritual that works best for the child and the family. In many cases, a child might pursue parents’ presence and warmth when they face a disturbance in normal routine life. Like when the family moves into a new locality or city. Or when the primary caregiver is unwell and unable to stay close to the child. Or the current pandemic situation when schools, playgrounds, libraries, etc are closed to maintain social distancing.
4. Pushing child to be independent
Excuse me if I dare say, we parents are pushing our children too hard. We dwell on if the milestone ticks are delayed by a few days. In playgrounds, we go into an unconscious state of comparison with food habits, how long the baby sleeps to when the baby is diaper-free. Blah-blah.
We bring that worry home and start pushing our child to hit the milestone. We parents expect our child to sleep all night long, wean off breasts soon, go diaper-free quickly, learn to be independent.
Contrary to overloaded information on the internet a child doesn’t need to be taught so vigorously to do anything from above. They would sleep for long hours once they reach that biological state. A child and mother can choose to breastfeed as long as both are comfortable.
Our child was breastfed until he was around 30 months. When he was about 18 months old, we unsuccessfully attempted taking him off diapers. As he turned 25 months, one day he wanted to use the bright red colored loo, his potty-training seat. By the end of the 26th month, he decided to go completely diaper-free, including night time. Since then we have 3-4 accidents in bed. He would turn 4 in a couple of months.
We underestimate our children. They are much capable then we give credit to them. They do need us to understand their body but not to push too early or hard.
Contrary to popular belief, the more we push our children into independence, the more scared they would be, the more dependent they would be.
5. Over indulgence parenting
Do you know a friend who is obsessed with their child? If the child trying to walk and falling, yet he/she want to walk. The parent would rather carry the child in order to avoid unforeseen accidents. In case of dangerous spots, that’s fine, but what if the parent’s behavior continues in an open playfield or ball pool or any secure area?
These are toddlerhood cases of helicopter parenting. As the child and parent grow, the later might continue to hover around the child. They are constantly worried and have fear if the child faces failure.
We all need a fair share of success and failure in life. Our failure teaches us to be strong, face challenges, and think-work beyond. With overindulgence parenting, alias helicopter parenting, or lawnmower parenting styles, parents give the message of incapability. The child might have underdeveloped coping skills, and develop a sense of privilege.
How to strengthen the attachment bond?
Before a child is born parents assume, they would fall head over heels for their newborn. They conveniently forgot the grueling months of eat-poop-sleep or are inexperienced. Soon, they realized that parenting was not like they dreamt of. Building a strong bond with a child and maintaining it takes effort. Intentional effort.
Better you start early and stick to it. It pays off well.
- Be the mindful parent
When you are with your child, be just with your child. Be in the moment. Remove any gadget – smartphones, kindle, television from the vicinity.
If the child is breastfeeding, watch how his/her eyes look at you while feeding, how glowing is his/her cheek as they gulp milk. Agree, during the initial months it is a tiring business of marathon breastfeeding and you are so tempted to watch television or scroll through social media. Easy said than done. But worth the effort.
When the child starts solid food and you might be attracted again put on a screen to make him/her eat easily, quickly. But once the screen dependence for eating is development it takes months to recover. We made that mistake around his 2nd years and going sane screen took months of work. Children are sensory sponges. If they hold, mash, lick food from their hands, they would turn better eaters as they grow. (If you have a picky eater, you might like to read – My Child Won’t Eat: How to Enjoy Mealtimes Without Worry by Carlos González.)
As the child grows, they would search for your words of encouragement, when they create art or solve a puzzle. With a gadget in hand and child in lap, the multi-tasking hurts both.
With time ask their opinion and ideas before making decisions. During the early years of children always play well with them. Be a mindful parent.
2. Cheer their independence
Do you remember the “I will do” phase of the child? During toddlerhood, the child grows as an energy station. They are no longer entirely dependent on parents around 18 -36 months. They develop varying degrees of independence depending on temperament.
Toddlers show an eagerness to help you around. If they are in the kitchen next to you, ask them to pass the salt and get rewarded with an excited grin. Let them help you with laundry, dusting, etc. There are a bunch of chores that your little bundle can easily do. This freedom within limits would give them a boost in self-esteem.
Some ideas that would help you to create and maintain the bond
- Read a book together.
- Ask them to join in gardening.
- Go on nature walks.
- Play board games.
- Watch a movie
- Plan a picnic
- Make art or craft.
- Swim together.
- Cook a meal
- Do household chores
All children really want is our time.
There is no manual for parenting. Things that work for one, might not work for others. As there is certainly no right way to be a stellar parent. All we can do is try. Schedule alone time with your child and find out their passions-desires.
It’s a privilege being your child’s mom. One step at a time.
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This information is shared from experience and research done. There are many things that worked for us, many more that didn’t. None of this can replace medical advice when needed.