A 3-Year-Old Continually Clings To A Parent, Crying. How Can This Parent Figure Out What The Child Really Needs?

Dr. Gene Beresin answers the question: 'How To Deal With Clingy 3-Year-Old?'

ByABC News
December 22, 2008, 3:55 PM

— -- Question: A 3-year-old is continually clinging to a parent, crying and tugging at the parent's leg. The parent "reads" his attention-seeking as hunger, but feeding does not work; the parent simply reacts by scolding his annoying behavior. How can this parent figure out what the child really needs?

Answer: It's very important for parents to understand what their kids want and need, and this is often obtained by looking at their communication over a period of time.

So, a 3-year-old that's hungry might use words -- like cookie -- or might point to the cupboard, or might whine or cry. So, looking at the patterns is very important.

Now, in this case, the parent read it wrong. And one of the most important teaching points for parents is when you misunderstand a child, it's always important to say "I'm sorry. I got it wrong. Could you tell me what you want?"

We all make mistakes in communication, and this conveys to children that they're going to make mistakes, just as parents make mistakes. And it demonstrates respect, it demonstrates listening, it demonstrates the fact that communication goes both ways, and it should start early in childhood and go through, through later childhood into adolescence.

Now, how can the parents figure out what's going on?

One thing is to step back and say, what is a 3-year-old doing at this time? They're just finished toilet training. Does the child need to go to the bathroom? Does the child have a tummy ache? Is the child over-tired because he was up too late last night? Or something else going on in the family that might make the child irritable?

Scolding is not the answer. The real answer is to talk with the child, find out, and, above all, remember, we succeed by our failures, and we need to be role models for correcting communication gaps.