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What's Up With Clingy Tweens?

Photograph by Getty Images

Ever have that feeling that you're not alone, like, ever? Claire Harrington, mom from Sun Valley, Idaho, knows it well.

"It was close to bedtime, but the guests were still in the backyard," she told me. "The s'mores had just been revealed, and I was running upstairs to get a jacket. When I came back downstairs and put my hand on the knob, I had that eerie feeling like someone was watching me. I turned around and, in the corner, hidden by the shadows, he stood. Silently watching me."

It was her son.

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"Where were you?" he asked.

I hadn't left him among strangers, I hadn't gone far and I had only been out of his sight for mere minutes.

"I went to get a jacket!" I yelled. "You scared me to death!"

My heart was racing, and I was severely annoyed.

Mama's Boy. Cling-on. Stalker? They are names that kids who are highly attached to their parents have been called before and, perhaps, will be called forever. Is the fact that beyond toddlerhood your children must sit on your lap at the beach instead of playing on a wide open beach such a big deal?

As kids grow older, parents think the natural tendency will be for their kids to want more independence, that they will want time away from Mom or Dad. So what's going on when that hasn't happened by the tween years?

And if it's attention they are seeking, it's OK to just give it to them, no questions asked.

Melinda Wenner Moyer writes on Slate.com that "periodic clingy behavior" is normal and that what we might consider clingy might also be an internal response from a child who feels they are not capable of being alone. A feeling, the story argues, parents were responsible for putting in place.

"Neediness can also come about when parents give children the sense that they can't do things on their own—as when you step in too quickly to help with puzzles or don't let your kids take minor risks at the playground," Moyer writes. "Children do need help and guidance, but it's important for their developing sense of confidence and independence to let them try things on their own and get frustrated sometimes."

So building self-esteem, fostering confidence, setting up safe ways to stretch beyond their comfort zones can be, for 10 to 12 year olds, something like riding around the neighborhood on their bikes, encouraging sleepovers and completing an art or engineering project from beginning to end. The sense of accomplishment and confidence from small acts to lead to a bigger result for your clingy son or daughter.

And if it's attention they are seeking, it's OK to just give it to them, no questions asked. Which is what Harrington did the night her son scared her.

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"That night I was angry and felt suffocated by my son, as I had so often in the past," she said. "But looking back, with 20/20 vision, I realized that there was something he needed from me that I wasn't addressing. I took him on a walk recently, just the two of us, and towards the end of the walk he told me it was his favorite thing we had done all week. That night there was no clingy behavior, just lots of hugs and kisses before bed. A perfect way to end the day."

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