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Dealing with a clingy toddler — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

We’ve arrived at 17 months with our precious little girl and have noticed what seems to be excessive clinging recently. As she learned to walk, over several weeks, my wife and I got used to being needed to steady her — usually holding both her hands. Once she stopped falling down so much, we hoped to have a little “freedom” from her demands that one of us be by her side most of the time. But now she’s back to wanting to be picked up, held, carried around as we attempt to do chores around the house. In the store the other day, she refused to sit either in the seat or in the basket, so I ended up carrying her with one arm to get the shopping done.

Is this a normal phase? Is there something we should do to help her be more independent?

Oh My Back

Don’t miss last week’s column Distinguishing between autism and a nervous habit — Good Parenting

Dear OMB,

Classic child psychologists call this phase “rapprochement” which is French for “returning” or “reconciliation.” This is the age of discovering one’s self. Walking independently is tantamount to getting a driver’s license, your first paycheck and realizing you actually could ace that French exam because it’s finally all making sense, all at the same time. Never having had the ability to walk on your own two feet before, it can be expected that a little anxiety goes with the thrill. Maybe this is only temporary, and I’ll be back to falling down a lot and crawling again. I’d better keep those parents handy just in case.

There’s a very interesting game you could play with your toddler to help her enjoy her independence and be assured of your steadfast presence. It’s best played somewhere that is either enclosed or so wide open that there would be no trouble for her to get into (like a grassy field). You park yourself, preferably on the floor or ground, and let her wander off. Typically, a toddler gets about 10 to 20 yards away, turns around to laugh, then runs back to you. I’ve experimented with this with a few toddlers and it works every time. The key is for the grown-up to stay put. If you chase after her, she has to try to keep that 20-yard distance from you because you got up before she was ready to run back. She wants to be in charge of leaving you and returning.

  • You might start preparing for the running away phase (which should be right around the corner from the “carry me, carry me” phase) with some tips for dealing with it. She has to prove to herself and to you that she’s on her own, but that you’re still right there, too.
  • Prevent running in unsafe places with plenty of opportunity to run in a safe place every day.
  • Give her a pull toy to slow her down where it wouldn’t be safe to run.
  • Let her push a toddler-size shopping cart in the grocery store.
  • Use a stroller or strap her on your back where it’s NOT safe for her to run off.
  • Keep her hands busy with a toy if she has to be strapped in (in a car, stroller or shopping cart).

Rest assured that clinging and running away are perfectly normal for this phase, and before you know it, she’ll be on to the next one!

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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