How do I help my very attached toddler be more independent?
Q: How do you get a very attached toddler to be less clingy? He is almost 2 and the youngest of four and I still find it hard to homeschool, cook, or clean because he is so demanding of my attention (i.e. throws tantrums, cries or whines for me, tugs my clothes or hugs my legs). He doesn’t behave this way if he is with his dad and I’m not around.
A: Hi, Hayden Sears here. When I think back five years to when my youngest was two I could’ve written those same words, “how do I get my very attached toddler to be more independent?” At the time I was homeschooling my five-year-old and eight-year-old, working a part-time business from home, and was responsible for most of the household duties especially since their dad works very long hours and off and traveled. loved my life and what I was able to offer my children but I know it took a lot out of me – I often felt drained and at my wit’s end.
I want to start by commending you for what you’re giving your family; such a gift. As aggravating as it is, your son’s behavior is very much age-appropriate. Right now he depends on you for his sense of well-being and to feel safe, happy, and entertained. He is still trying to understand that you are in fact a separate person. Over the next year or so it’s going to balance out. But here are some thoughts that may help. Know that these are not quick fixes and can be a process.
It is very common for the youngest child to constantly feel like they have to work to get our attention. And often times that becomes very unpleasant (whining, crying, miss behaving). And then, despite our best efforts to be patient, calm, and kind, they can sense our annoyance and frustration which can add to their anxiety, and their need to be soothed and exacerbates their behavior. We can help ease that anxiety by joyfully offering our full attention, even for a small amount of time, frequently throughout the day. When I would remember to give my two-year-old a small bit of one-on-one time before starting a project that needed my full attention I found I was able to get a bit more space without having to fight for it. This can also break the cycle of your son feeling like he constantly has to work for it. You might have to do this quite often throughout the day for a while until he feels confident that some one-on-one attention is coming. Perhaps think of five-minute versions of what he loves to do with you. Five minute snuggle time, pick his favorite song and dance to it with him, read his favorite book without distraction, or 5 minutes “rest time with mommy” (bonus is that you get a 5 minute rest time).
At this age, he can also start learning how to wait. At first just 30 seconds, then you can build up to minutes and more. For example, if you’re in the middle of something and he wants your attention you can ask him to go run around the couch three times and come back; sing his favorite song and let him know when he’s done you will get him his water; he needs to take three deep breaths and then you will pick him up; draw mommy a picture and then you can sit on my lap, etc… The more practice he has waiting, the better he will be at it. Keep it fun and light so he will internalize it as a positive thing, and celebrate and reward his waiting.
In the meantime, if you’re in desperate need for relief, hiring a mother‘s helper or having an older sibling offer some distraction might be necessary. Right now you are in the thick of it. And the days may seem so long but remember, the months and years fly by.
Sending loving and peaceful energy your way. And just in case you don’t have anyone in your life telling you this: you’re amazing and your children are blessed to have you…you’ve got this.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”