Certain parents live with the fear (or shame/regret) of having a clingy baby, some struggle to deal with their clingy baby, and others just don’t think about babies’ clinginess too much. I now fall in the last category, but used to be somehow so uncomfortable when my baby got clingy in social circumstances. Whenever she got like that, my mind will start thinking about reasons to explain her (mis)behaviours, such as she’s hungry, sleepy etc.
Parents should not feel obliged to explain the world why their 4 months old prefers to stay with them rather than go to a stranger (to them). Babies get clingy at one point or another; some more than others. We can’t blame ourselves or our babies for that, and we most definitely should not let others bully us into believing that we’ve caused it. A few months back, I wrote a post about why I chose to carry my daughter despite people telling me that she will get clingy as a result. So I know that there are many people out there who think some parents are to blame for their babies’ clinginess… How judgemental of them! Babies get clingy for all various reasons, some of which are out of parents’ control!
The socially clingy baby: the one who gets clingy when around new/many faces
First and foremost raising a baby is a huge challenge on its own (e.g. they don’t speak and know nothing of our world), and there is not a manual that comes with newborns. It’s about trial and error, and what works for one parent may not work for another. So can we please be less judgemental and more understanding of other people’s parenting skills, especially first-time parents.
Secondly, as small as babies are, they already have their own individual personality which started developing when they were in the womb (watch this for more info). Some adults either overlook or are unaware of this fact, and expect all babies to have the same character (e.g. loving strangers or smiling constantly). Adults choose their friends based on what they know about them. Babies are more or less the same, they choose to be with the people they know and feel comfortable with. My baby, for example, absolutely loves other babies (even the ones she doesn’t know), but she’s reluctant to be near adults she barely knows.
Thirdly, our social environment also shapes our babies’ response to different situations. In my case, for instance, there is myself, my husband and our baby in our home, and we do not have daily visits of friends and relatives. When we go to children centres, though my baby sees many adult faces, she’s always with me because she’s not fully mobile yet. Each parent looks after their own baby, anyway. My little one has, therefore, few physical contacts with other people besides myself and her dad. This, in my opinion, explains her unwillingness to be carried by unfamiliar faces, and there’s nothing abnormal or shameful about this behaviour! I don’t force her, and no longer give any explanation to anybody.
The constantly Clingy baby: the one who always wants to be carried by their parents
As babies start to work towards reaching developmental milestones such as sitting down, crawling and walking, some prefer to stay with their parents instead of exploring these new skills. This type of clingy baby may want mum to carry them all the times. Before anyone starts talking about the correlation between this clinginess and past carrying habits, I’d like to state that my little one is not a constantly clingy baby even though I carried her A LOT when she was smaller.
I have read many posts about mums and clingy babies, and how it stops them from doing other activities in peace. From time to time, my own baby gets that clingy. It’s frustrating, really. But the good news is that babies learn and unlearn habits as they grow. As parents, we should therefore spend less time worrying about undesired habits in our babies, and more time supporting them learn new ones. It may seem “easy said than done”, but a hurdle is never easy to overcome; it’s our own approach to it that determines our success or failure.
My baby got into the habit of sleeping with either myself or her dad by her side from the moment she was born. She felt safe and I felt reassured. I felt that teaching her to sleep on her own from when she was so tiny, though it has its positive sides, would have been too much emotional distress for her and myself. As she was growing, putting her to sleep got longer and was unproductive for me. So when she turned five months, we decided to put her to bed on her own, and she learnt fast. The first night she cried for a good 15 minutes 🙁 , the days that followed her crying gradually dropped. Now she sleeps on her own most of the times, apart from the occasional times when she just feels like crying a lot.
Whatever method you choose to teach your clingy baby independence steps, it takes time and often strong heart. Go at a pace you are most comfortable with, and worry less about what others think. People will always have something to say.
How I encourage my baby to play and stay on her own (be less clingy)
Though my baby is not constantly clingy, she some times asks for my full attention. Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve done to help her be settled on her own:
- Get her to know nursery rhymes: this was initially for French learning purpose. Now we also use these rhymes to keep her occupied, and cheer her up when she’s down. We have a variety of songs to avoid boredom. We play this once or twice a day, and never when she’s eating.
- Show enthusiasm to what I’d like her to learn: babies copy what they see around them, so if you show excitement towards something they are likely to do so too. I sing along to my baby’s nursery rhymes, and when I buy her singing toys, I dance to their tunes till she starts to move along (sounds ridiculous, right? It works though! 🙂 ).
- Understand her cries and react accordingly: at this stage I can differentiate her cries. If I feel it’s just a whim, then I let her cry and pick her up when she is quiet. This way she may start learning that crying does not always get her what she wants.
This post is about my personal understanding of and solutions to this common problem. Being a parent is hard enough as it is, so I don’t let other people’s negativity or blame culture get on the way of raising my baby. I accept constructive advice, and ignore the rest. If some people can’t understand how unpredictable a small baby can be, then it’s their problem not mine. That’s why I do not think much about my baby’s clinginess, and no longer give explanation when she gets clingy.