separation anxiety

Separation anxiety and the clingy child: How parents can help

For parents of clingy children,  the idea of sending them back off to school, kinder or daycare this week may be filling them with much trepidation and anxiety.

Why are some kids clingy? 

Around 9 months babies develop a normal separation anxiety, which can continue through to around 4 years. Often however, this continues well beyond those years and can become a frustrating element to the daily routine.

Some kids seem to have an inbuilt confidence and independence, allowing them to set forth with seemingly wild abandon, settling in to any new environment with ease. Others however clamour for their life wrapping their little arms around a leg , burying their tear stained faces into the folds of a mums skirt, who’s joy at feeling needed and loved is fast transforming into frustration and even anger as they struggle to ply away the clingy hands.

Clinging to mum or dad is a sign however that your child feels safe and secure with you and can therefore be seen as a positive. How we respond to that however can help give them the confidence to go and explore a little of the world with the reassurance that they will have that secure base to return to.

Things to remember about the clingy child and separation anxiety


  • ‘Clingyness’ can be very normal for a baby and toddler, but can also be very common in the later years of childhood.
  • Look first as to whether there is any specific event or reason as to why a child may be reluctant to leave you, such as bullying at school or a major upheaval on the home front.
  • Be consistent so they know what to expect every time.
  • Don’t sneak out of a classroom as this will only cause them to be extra clingy next time as they become more aware of your escape tactics.  Instead, rather than  long drawn out goodbyes, explain that you will be leaving now but will be back. Calmly give them a kiss and a cuddle and say goodbye (Try not to  keep going back as this may confuse them more)
  • Sometimes giving specific times or events can be helpful such as “I will be picking you up after sport or art class or snack time” so they have something more concrete to assure them.
  • Alert the teacher beforehand if your feel it is becoming an issue so they know to keep an eye on the child and hopefully help to distract and settle them in.
  • The stepladder approach is a technique that can be used if the anxiety continues and can also help with everyday fears.
  • Remind yourself that it will not last forever. Whilst my boys may have had moments of separation anxiety and clinginess, as 13, 12 and 10 year olds, it has been a very long time since any of them have clung to my legs or feared leaving my presence!



Share this post

Like this article? Sign up to our email newsletter and never miss a post.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Excellent tips! I found that when Punky was struggling with me leaving her at daycare once a week it really helped to keep the goodbyes short and sweet. Thankfully the teachers were really good and were right on it if they could see she was getting upset and would come over and talk to her and take her off to check out the latest toy or activity so that the goodbye was a drawn out affair. They are brilliant like that. Now, she cries when it’s time to leave pre-school coz she loves it so much!

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      It certainly helps to have teachers that are switched on to providing distraction. Most do love it once we leave. Its just the goodbye bit we have to get through.

  2. Carolyn @ Champagne Cartel

    Great tips, thanks Martine! My three year old cries every single day we drop him off at daycare (three days a week) and has been doing so for over a year now. We might have the odd day or two where he is okay – today being one of them, hooray! – but generally it has been tough. We try to be consistent and firm, and keep our goodbyes short. I also try to always tell him when I will be back in the afternoon and what we will do when I pick him up but sometimes it just feels so hard.

    I know it won’t be forever but it has been going on for so long now! My older daughter went through a few months of this when she was about the same age, but it ended quickly. My youngest is 16 months and is so excited to see her carers at daycare, she couldn’t care less about me. I’m hoping that continues!

    Go team #IBOT

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Thanks Carolyn. Sounds like you are doing all the right things so rest assured it won’t last.:)

  3. Jody at Six Little Hearts

    I only ever experienced clinginess in an older child twice. My daughter at kinder, and the same child at a party drop-off.
    With the kinder, she decided that she didn’t want to go in once we arrived in the car. One morning I had to chase her around the car to grap her! After weeks of this, and almost removing her from kinder altogether, I found a solution – a playdate with another kinder child. Problem solved!! She never gave me a second glance ever again!!!

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Yes having other kids around to play certainly helps them feel more comfortable and is a great idea.

  4. Sally@Toddlers on Tour

    I have a clingy child, at times it has been frustrating and other times I think – at least I have never had to worry about him running away or taking off at the park – I couldn’t lose him if I tried.

    On a more serious note, a tip for those starting school this year I have found using the siren as a good indicator to leave. I discussed this with my child before hand. I ensure we get to class 5 minutes early (you don’t won’t to be too early, too much time for them to stress) he can then get settled with an activity, when the siren rings, a quick kiss goodbye and I leave, ensuring I don’t get tempted by requests to stay.

    Good luck to all Mum’s with little ones starting school for the first time this year.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      That is a very valid point about the running off though. Having a runner is equally as frustrating!That is a great tip too. Giving kids a warning with anything always helps them to process what is going to happen next.

  5. Renee

    I needed to hear this today thank you. I had them both crying on drop off and pick up from daycare today. The three year old is getting better, but today was not one of those days. Thanks for the tips.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Oh sorry it was a bad day Renee. But on a positive note…there will be loads of good days x

  6. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me

    My youngest clings to me like a protective koala and has to be pulled off me screaming at every daycare drop, I always peek at him as I walk past the play area and he stops crying instantly, I’m so glad that it’s my 3rd and not my 1st that did this, I’m much more hardened now. x

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Oh absolutely Emily. Experience does make us very wise…and a lot tougher!

  7. Lauren - Create Bake Make

    Thank you for sharing tees great tips. My little one is just eight months old and already I can tell he is going to be more ‘clingy’ compared to his big brother.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Yes sometimes it is just the way they are. And usually it all starts around 8 months 🙂

  8. Meg @ Mumdanity

    Thanks for the great post, and the great tips. We are just stepping into separation anxiety territory here, this post couldn’t have come at a better time for our little family.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Oh, thank you and glad you found it helpful. Good luck!

  9. Krystal

    Thank you for this post. My son would scream when I left him at Daycare (only 1 day a week) when he was younger. Now he is 3 and loves it. My twins are at the age where they will start soon. I hope it is a lot smoother.

  10. Rachelle Simons

    My 2 year old is exactly like this, I can’t leave the house without him clinging to my leg. Though I think it’s still normal at this stage? At least I’ll know what to do if this attitude persists. Thank you so much for your wonderful tips.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Thanks Rachelle, and yes it is still perfectly normal so please dont stress. I guarantee he wont be doing it at high school 🙂

Comments are closed.