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4 Things Not To Do With a Clingy Toddler (and what to try instead)

Clingy tots are my specialty. Feeding them, putting them to sleep, and bringing them out into the big wide world are all things I do with grace and pleasure. It's not always easy. In fact, it hardly ever is.

I've just had more experience with toddlers than most. Like 43 years of caring for them at their worst and at their best. I understand them and I think they understand me.

I've found over and over again that the more you try to extract them from your presence, the more they try to get closer. It's like one of those unwritten laws that you grow to respect immensely over time. Here's my short and sweet version of the facts.


The first thing never to do with a clingy toddler is to lie to them. It's just going to backfire on you, so don't even go there. Here are few commons lies that have the effect of promoting distrust and skepticism in tots and an alternate way to say it.

"Eat this carrot, it tastes like candy."

instead, try

"Give this carrot a little tiny taste, even if you think you don't like them. All carrots taste a little bit different and today might be the day you like it!

"There's nothing to be afraid of."

instead, try

"I can tell that you feel unsure about the dog, because of the way you're backing up. You can sit on my lap over here and watch for a while or you can come over by him with me. After you learn a little bit more about the way dogs act, you might feel better about petting them."

"You're a big girl! Big girls aren't afraid of clowns."

instead, try

"I'm going to talk with the clown for one minute. You can stay here with Granny until I'm done."


The second thing never to do with a clingy toddler is to try to coerce them into participating in anything. Instead, try to expose them slowly to new things while offering them support. Let their curiosity get the best of them. Understand that they may feel afraid and that's OK. Offer to hold them if it helps them to feel more secure.


The third thing to never do with a clingy toddler is to attempt to bribe them. That just reinforces the assumption that it's something scary you're asking them to do. Otherwise, you wouldn't feel the need for a bribe. Instead, you can use "I messages" to demonstrate what you're able to do without fear. That's a better skill for them to pick up on.


I'm going to talk to the clown.

I'm going to pick up an instrument and dance. You can watch or try it with me.

I'm going to let the doggy sniff my hand, then pet it gently on the head. You can stay over there if you don't feel ready.


The fourth thing to never do with a clingy child is to talk them into going into a haunted house even when they protest because " it will be fun." Bringing them in before they're really ready can have a disastrous effect for years to come! (even if you think it's not that scary!)

You really have no way of knowing whether or not they'll find it acceptable.

Instead, you can ask them every year if they're ready and hold their hand when they agree to try.

The bottom line in getting kids to accept things is to understand their feelings and to trust what they tell you. Then be patient.

Say, "Someday, you'll decide to go into the haunted house, someday, you'll use the big potty, Someday, you won't cry right away when you see the clown but until that day, I'm here for you."

Let your kids know that you've felt afraid of things like they do. And while you're at it you might want to admit that certain things still make you feel afraid to this day. It's better than the alternative of claiming to be fearless, perfect and always in control. Who could ever expect to live up to that?

Ever wonder how to get kids to listen without yelling or time-outs?

So did I. If you want it, I'm going to share with you all of the best phases and tips I"ve learned for helping kids learn to control themselves over a 43-year career in early childhood and family education.

You'll get this 21-page slideshow immediately and free as soon as you join our VIP community of the best parents and teachers around. I'll send you a new tip every Friday and you'll get access to some fun free stuff because you really do deserve it! Sign up now, before you forget. The free stuff won't be free forever!

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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