Why Is My Baby/Toddler So Clingy?

Jul 02, 2022
Why Is My Baby/Toddler So Clingy?

“Why is my baby/toddler so clingy? She won’t let me do anything or go anywhere! I’m so exhausted!” 

To answer this question, I will be going into full on nerd mode ? So you’ve been warned! 

Can you differentiate between the two lemurs in the picture? (What do LEMURS have to do with my clingy toddler?!! They do they do!! Just bear with me!)

Ok so, as I was asking, if you were shown one, would you be able to tell if it’s the one you saw a second ago on the right or the one on the left? 

Of course not. They all look the same to us. 

But the baby in the red chair.. he can! That’s why he’s so excited! 

In fact, he can differentiate between 10 or more lemurs. He knows when he’s shown a new one versus an old one. He gets excited every time he sees a new ‘face’! 

Amazing, right? 

Except he’s not special or gifted. 

If you have a baby who’s also about 6 months or less, he/she has the same superpower! 

The pictures you see are from an experiment done with babies of various ages. You can watch the whole video here https://youtu.be/EWA7QB_hXWQ.

This experiment was done to prove the phenomenon known as Synaptic Pruning that occurs in the brains of babies and kids. 

Basically, when we’re born, our brains have hundred and thousands of synapses or neural connections- a synapse is simply the point of exchange of information between neurons. But we don’t NEED that many synapses, so as we get older, we lose many of them in a super cool process called “synaptic pruning” (more on that another day). 

Because babies are born with soooo many synapses, they have the ability to differentiate between random stuff like all the different lemurs, but they’ll never need this kind of precision SO those connections are eventually lost during synaptic pruning (cutting) and by 8-9 months, babies no longer have this superpower. 

So, if they can tell all these lemurs apart because they’re THAT good at recognizing facial expressions/features, how good do you think they are at deciphering their Parents’ faces??! 

This can be a good thing and a bad thing, right?

This means they can read every tiny sign of distress and anxiety on your face. 

This means that as soon as they start to cry and you get that expression on your face that mirrors your thoughts, saying “Oh no.. not again.. what’s wrong now? Will she stop crying if I give her milk? What if she doesn’t stop crying? Am I a bad mom? I can’t make my baby stop crying!” 

Your baby reads it all. 

She senses your anxiety and SEES it written all over your face as if she’s an expert at face analysis.. which wait, she IS!! 

Over time, the baby can get the message that her parents are anxious and doubtful. They’re not certain if they can really take care of her. That makes HER anxious. This gives rise to what psychologists call anxious-ambivalent attachment, which basically means the baby is DRAWN to her figure of attachment but doesn’t feel secure by the actual attachment and so becomes confused and sad. 

These initial neural connections that are formed at such a tender age are hard to break later. The insecure baby turns into an insecure toddler. 

He wants mama/Baba ALL the time, whoever was his figure of attachment in those early months. He freaks out when he’s not with them because he’s already so insecure, he thinks “Oh no! No one can take care of me if my own mom/dad can’t!”. 

As he gets older, we see more boundary-testing from him because of his insecurities and adults will say, “oh he really likes to push the limits...” Yes he does. Because he’s scared. And he’s LITERALLY testing his parents more and more... PLEASE pass the test, he’s saying.. I need you to pass this parenting test!!! 

Now chances are that you didn’t know all this cool science when you became a first time parent (neither did I) and despite our best intentions, we WERE scared to become parents!

I remember sort of really freaking out when I realized for the first time that I’m responsible for KEEPING THIS HUMAN ALIVE!! ?

So yes. It happens. BUT does this mean your child is doomed? Will they be forever insecure and clingy?

No, of course not. No matter what age your child is, you can start over. The great thing about the brain is that it’s very “plastic” or changeable. With enough effort, you can alter the neural connections. 

Here are some ways to change your attachment style with your child from insecure to secure:

- Start practicing your new mantra, “I’m a capable parent who can offer comfort and security to my child.”

- Learn more about positive discipline so you CAN confidently set limits and offer comfort. 

- As soon as you feel that anxiety rising, talk to it and tell it to calm the heck down! And repeat your mantra:)

- Whenever you have to leave your child (to go to the bathroom or work or a weekend away), be confident and secure. Gently but firmly say, “you’re sad because I’m leaving, I’ll be back soon!”

- Encourage independent play in short increments. 

- Have a designated space to play for your child in the house like a #yesspace where you first spend time with them but then start to leave them for limited periods. 

- Accept that children cry and should cry and are allowed to cry. That’s how they express their feelings. We calmly accept those feelings, validate them and comfort them. 

- When you come back from anywhere and your child is sad and crying, affirm their feelings, “you’re sad because you missed me. I missed you too!” But don’t wallow in guilt or shame because remember, THEY CAN SEE IT ??‍♂️ :)