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When you’re trying to work from home, it’s important that you have time to do your work. You need to be able to focus, and knock some tasks off your to-do list.
But, when you have a clingy child, finding that time becomes more difficult.
If you have a clingy child who won’t let you get anything done, I’ve got some tips to help. These are all tried and true. They’re strategies I used to help a couple of my kids become more independent and less clingy.
1. Start with Positive Attention
Kids need our attention. And if they feel like they aren’t getting enough positive attention, they will start seeking out the other kind. Negative attention.
Kids have learned what works when it comes to getting you to pay attention to them. If being clingy gives them what they want, they’re going to keep doing it.
So, let’s change the routine a bit. I want you to purposefully schedule fun time with this child. Pour positive attention on them. Read a book together. Play with cars. Cook together.
Whatever your child enjoys, do that. Make it a point to spend 30-60 minutes at the beginning of the day with them.
During this time, don’t be on your phone. Don’t try to multi-task. Just focus on your child, letting them know that you love them and are there for them.
Way back in the early 2000s when I was trying to study for my college classes with a clingy toddler, I learned this lesson the hard way. If I gave her attention early in the day, starting the day off together, the rest of the day went so much smoother.
She was willing to play by herself later. Or quietly watch a movie. (I think I still have Lady & the Tramp memorized since that was her favorite :D).
So if you aren’t currently doing so, please try starting the day pouring attention onto your clingy child.
2. Check for Underlying Conditions
If you have a child being clingy who isn’t normally clingy, that’s a sign that something isn’t right. Definitely take the time to rule out any underlying conditions.
For instance, my babies always seem to become clingy right about 13 months of age. During this time, they’re almost always cutting their first set of molars. It’s a painful time for them.
Kids can become clingy when they’re sick. Or tired. Or when they feel unsure of themselves due to unusual situations.
If your child is clingy right now during the stay-at-home orders, it could be fear or anxiety manifesting in a physical way.
So please take steps to make sure everything is okay before you just start moving through my next tips. If there’s an underlying condition, you need to make sure to work with your child’s doctor or therapist.
3. Make a List & Select an Activity
You know what your child enjoys doing. Depending on your child’s age, there are likely things they can do on their own.
If your child is old enough, please do this step with them. They’ll be more likely to buy in if they feel like they get to be a part of making the solution.
Here are a few ideas, based on ages:
Always keep your baby’s individual temperament and abilities in mind. Use common sense in selecting activities for your child.
- Play pen time (in a playpen nearby with some favorite toys or board books)
- Blanket time (on a blanket nearby with some favorite toys or board books)
- Laundry basket time (if your child can sit well, mine often enjoy sitting in a large laundry basket at my feet. I can gently rock them.)
- Baby swing
- Exercise Saucer (or whatever those things are called!)
For more ideas, see this post:
Toddlers are so curious. They need to be close by so they don’t choose an activity you don’t approve of or that’s dangerous. 😀
Here are some ideas that are great for clingy toddlers:
- Sensory bin with rice or oatmeal and some toy cars (it doesn’t have to be fancy!)
- Playing solo with parts to a board game (if they won’t put them in their mouth! – Don’t Rock the Boat is one my toddlers love.)
- Washing dishes (not really, but they sure have fun with a wash tub full of soapy water, some plastic plates and silverware, and a dish cloth.
- A stack of engaging board books
- A car rug and some toys
For more ideas for toddlers, see this post:
If you have a clingy preschooler, it’s important to find an activity that they enjoy to help them become independent. At this age, they’re typically old enough to begin explaining that you have to work, and that’s why you need them to play on their own for a few minutes. Then they can tell you all about it.
Let them help pick the activities, to help get better buy in!
- Making a simple snack (my preschoolers love making a trail mix from ingredients I set out)
- Having a “tea party” with their dolls and stuffed animals (I usually do lemonade so it’s not hot)
- Draw a picture
- Play with a foam letter mat (sometimes I’ll hide the letter inserts and make them go find them all)
- Turning a box into a doll house or a UPS truck or a rocket ship or …
- Playing with building blocks (Legos or Mega Blok)
For more ideas for preschoolers, see this post:
No matter the age of your child, create your own list of activities. Think about things you have currently, that you can use. That way you don’t have to go out and buy anything special.
4. Set the Timer
Once you have your list, select one activity. Get your child prepared to work on it. Help them gather all the supplies, talk about the plan, and then have them get started.
Give positive feedback as they begin – nice job sitting so quietly while you work on that. I’m going to get lots of work done thanks to you!
Then, set the timer for the amount of time you decided on. For really clingy kids, I recommend starting with five minutes or less.
Remember, the goal is for them to be successful. You aren’t actually going to get much work done at first.
But, it’s a start. So set the timer and then sit down with your computer nearby.
5. Redirect as Necessary
If your child comes over before the timer beeps, softly say, the timer hasn’t beeped yet, if it’s not an emergency, I need you to go sit back down and work for just a little bit longer.
Depending on your child, you may spend more time during the first few sessions redirecting than you’d like.
Don’t give up.
It will be worth it in the end.
Keep redirecting your child back to their activity. Don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t yell. Just matter of factly inform your child that the time isn’t up yet and you still need to work.
6. Reward with Attention and Praise
As soon as the timer beeps, walk over to your child and greet them with a huge smile.
Reward them with lots of positive attention and praise. Even if you had to redirect them, that’s okay.
Tell them thank you for doing something hard and learning to work on their own for a little while.
Then, ask them to tell you about what they did. Let them share their progress and tell you all the details.
Listen and offer more praise. Then, talk about what you did. Even if all you did was open your email and start to type a reply, it’s still something you can share.
This attention and sharing piece is crucial, so don’t skip it. Your child may have just felt like you abandoned them by making them not be with you for a few minutes. You know that isn’t the case, but these feelings are very real to your child.
When they begin to realize that when the timer beeps you’re going to focus on them for a bit, they begin to realize that it’s not that bad.
7. Repeat and Scaffold
Spend some time together, and then let your child know that it’s time for you to get some more work done.
Set them up, set the timer (same amount of time), and both of you get busy.
Redirect as necessary.
When the timer beeps, give attention, praise, and both of you share.
Then, later in the day, do it again.
Your goal is to do this several times a day. Keep each session short at first.
Then as your child gets used to playing independently for a bit, slowly begin increasing the time. Instead of five minutes, set it for seven.
And then ten.
Eventually, you can work your way up to 30 minutes for almost every age group. And you can get a lot done in 30 minutes of uninterrupted time!
8. Set Realistic Expectations
Now, it’s important to keep your expectations in check.
You aren’t suddenly going to go from having a clingy child and not getting anything done to having a child who will self-entertain for hours.
That’s not happening.
So don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to cram too much into your day. You’ve got to take it slow.
Eventually your clingy child won’t be so clingy. And you’ll have more time to focus on your work.
But for now, keep your expectations realistic. Everyone in the house will be so much better off.
So take it small, in little baby chunks. For now, really focus on using your mornings and evenings well.
The daytime hours will come, as you all adjust to this new routine. It will take a couple of weeks to get there, and you might feel like giving up at times.
It is worth it.
Take Care of You
Having a clingy child is draining. So make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well. Drink plenty of water. Get enough sleep.
And take a few minutes to recharge a few times throughout the day.
Here’s a post with ideas on how to make time for self care. Hopefully you’ll find some practical ideas in there.
You Can Work from Home with a Clingy Child
Above all, don’t give up hope. This stage that you’re in right now isn’t going to last forever.
So love on your child. Help them to gain independence. It’s a skill that’s so important for them.
You can do this.
I’ll be over here cheering you on!
And if you need more tips for working from home with kids, check out my course Balancing Diapers and Deadlines. It has over thirty bite-sized lessons to help you grow your business while raising a family.
Lisa Tanner is a former teacher turned homeschooling mom with 11 kids. She's also a successful freelance writer. Lisa enjoys helping other busy moms find time to start and grow a side hustle of their own.