My 2-year-old is clingy after my and my husband’s separation and refuses to be picked up by my new boyfriend. What can I do to help him through this phase?

The mom in this Q&A has had a tough divorce and her toddler is reacting. Here are some ideas on how to handle the situation.

2-year-old is clingy after separationPin


Mom’s Question:

My son, now two years old, is extremely clingy and will not play on his own

I separated from my husband almost a year ago. I haven’t lived with him since May. When my ex and I were together, he was never home due to work, and when I left, he fought me for custody and made it so I could hardly have my son by putting a protection order against my boyfriend. So my son has had a lot of changes which could be the reason for his clingy attitude.

When my boyfriend is around, my son refuses to play with him. If my boyfriend picks him up, he screams. If my boyfriend hugs me or anything, my son starts crying. I know my son likes my boyfriend because he will ask about him and will want to call and talk to him on the phone.

I know it’s going to take time and patience, but any help would be greatly appreciated!!!


Tips To Help Clingy Toddler After Separation

Possible Reasons Why Your Toddler Is Clingy

I am sorry to hear about your tough times. I hope a least the custody issues have been solved now and that there is a possibility for all of you to get into some kind of routine.

Regarding your son’s behavior, he might, just as you say, be reacting to the turbulent situation he has been through. A separation is a crisis for a young child, too, even if they are not old enough to speak about it. So instead, he may be clingy and wants no one but Mom when you are around.

On the other hand, it can be that he would have been just as clingy without the separation. Children go through stages of needing to be very close to one parent to feel safe.

Needless to say, you will never be sure whether the separation is the cause of his behavior or not. And maybe it doesn’t really matter. Your son is showing you what he needs right now, so as his parent, all you can do is basically adapt to the situation.

How to Help Your Clingy Toddler

Here are some thoughts on what you can do to help the situation:

Let Him Be Close To You When He Needs It

My number 1 tip to you is to let him have what he needs, i.e., to be close to you. I am sure it can be tiresome for you sometimes but try to think of it as a healing period – or simply a phase when he needs you more. He needs to be convinced that you are there for him. Always.

Don’t get worried that you spoil him by carrying him around; studies show quite clearly that young children that are being responded to as much as they need when they show signs of separation anxiety become secure and independent earlier and not the opposite. When he feels safe, he will take off on new adventures.

Build Up The Relationship Between Your New Boyfriend and Your Child Slowly

Regarding your boyfriend, talk to him and make him understand that his being rejected right now has absolutely nothing to do with him personally. It is great if he tries to build up a relationship with your son slowly and without forcing him to be carried or anything like that. Try to have fun together with the three of you as much as possible so that your son can learn in his heart that your boyfriend is not a threat but rather a friend.

Don’t put stress on your son by kissing your boyfriend in front of him. There will be a time when your son has healed from all of this, and you can kiss all you want when your son sees you, but he is not there yet.

If you have to kiss and hug your boyfriend while your son is around, then include your son too, so you all kiss together and make it a fun game! Maybe take turns kissing each and every one of you, and maybe kiss the teddy bear too. Mom and boyfriend only kiss if it is OK with your son. Playing games is a great way to get rid of the stress and power struggles that sometimes sneak into situations with our children.

Finally, take a moment to browse through questions and comments in this long thread about parents being rejected by their children. It contains some useful advice both for you and your boyfriend.

Reduce Any Negativity Regarding Your Son’s Father

Also, only say good things about your son’s dad to your son. Regardless of what you think about your ex-husband, your son has the right to love his dad and will feel more stressed if he hears you saying bad things about him.

Focus on Laughter and Love

You’ve gone through a really tough time, and I can imagine that not only your son but certainly also you have experienced a lot of emotional pain. Children are often very tuned in with their parents’ emotions, and studies have shown a clear positive correlation between maternal and child separation anxiety. Make sure to take care of yourself and let yourself heal. It takes time, but finding ways to put the trauma and pain behind you and move forward, is important to be able to enjoy life and be present as a mom. You both deserve that!

Above all, give your son all the love and comfort he needs, and make sure you hug him and laugh a lot together! It is well documented by research that laughter reduces stress hormones, something I bet all of you could benefit from after this tough year!

Warm wishes,


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  1. Twenty1stCMum

    I too am sorry to hear of the challenges you have had. Do not worry – children can and do go through clingy stages and it can be for no reason at all. It may just be a short phase, but don’t despair if it takes longer to get over.

    Some children do naturally cling to their mum’s and shy away from the father figure – regardless of the circumstances. My friend’s little one is scared of all men and without any reason.

    Just try to be understanding and patient, it will take time for your son to feel confident playing on his own. How is he with other children? Are there any local playgroups that he can play with other kids, but keep his mum in sight and close at hand, to build his confidence?

    You, your son, and your boyfriend will get beyond this stage and there is a bright horizon, as Paula says laughter and cuddles with your son will get you through. :-)