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Interdependence in the Phases of Childhood

A common criticism I have often received as a parent is that Gavin is too “clingy” to me.  I often get annoyed by such comments because I wonder “what is too clingy”?

To a certain extent, shouldn’t a child be clingy?

If you examine human evolution and understand the basic psychology of a child’s development, it makes sense for a child to seek the comfort of a parent and be a little “clingy”.  Children are born with a strong survival instinct.  That instinct dictates that they seek out their parents when they feel threatened or scared because their parents will protect them.  Children aren’t born with a working knowledge of the ways of the world.  There are lot of things they don’t know or understand and it frightens them.

So if my child runs to me or occasionally behaves a little “clingy”, I think it’s a good sign that he trusts me to be there to protect him.  It is also a good indication of the strength of the bond that we have.  Personally, I would rather he run to me when he feels troubled than to run to someone else because that would suggest to me that I have not fulfilled his needs as a parent.

I feel that part of the problem about “clinginess” stems from the fact that there are children who are very “independent”.  I would put it down to personality – just as there are social butterfly adults and shy adults.  Timid adults just hide their shyness better than an introverted child.  It is unfair to label a child as “clingy” just because he is “wired” differently from another child.

Probably my biggest gripe about being criticised about my son being too clingy is that these comments began from as early as when Gavin was just one year old.  If Gavin would cling to me and refuse to go to someone he doesn’t really know (even if that person happens to be a relative), the comment would be, “My!  He’s still so clingy!”  Even now, at two and a half, when he still has his “I only want Mummy” moments, it spurs a lot of negativity – like I have somehow made him that way through poor parenting.

Personally, I don’t perceive anything wrong with his behaviour.  Nor do I think he is an insecure child because of it.  I believe, as Sears does, that children go through phases of dependence and independence.  There will be days when all a toddler wants is to do “everything myself”.  Then there will be days when all he wants is for Mummy to help him.  Rather than labeling it “dependence” or “independence”, Sears calls it “interdependence”.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “no man is an island”.  I like to think that “interdependence” was what that phrase was referring to.  The fact that Gavin feels comfortable coming to me during his phases of dependence reassures me that I have been doing something right as a parent.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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