When they’re at home,
young children want to be near their parents. While the intensity of
need varies with age and personality, children, especially between
the ages of fifteen months and three years, are usually most content
playing and exploring when their parents are close by.
Young children like to be with their parents much of the time, day
and night. Often, parents find that their child has an easier time
falling asleep if they stay with him, patting his back or keeping
him company. In the uneasy moments before sleep, he gains comfort
when they are near.
His desire to be with his parents is normal, and the attention he
receives from them is essential for his development. As he comes to
understand that they are there even when he can’t see them, and that
every time they go away they come back, he begins to feel secure and
trusting. Gradually, based on these feelings of trust, he’ll develop
the ability and desire to separate from his parents.
Waiting for that separation to occur, however, can be frustrating
for parents who would like more time to themselves. They don’t often
have a chance to be alone at home, especially when they’re followed
by a young child who won’t let them out of his sight. And at times,
a child who stays close by his parents can be an embarrassment in
public or when other adults are visiting.
A baby will indicate his need for closeness by reaching out to be
picked up. When he can crawl, he’ll follow his parents’ voices and
crawl to be near them. Later as a toddler, he’ll often carry his
toys from room to room to be with his parents. And although at three
or four years old he may spend time at school, day care, or a
neighbor’s house, he’ll still prefer to be near his parents when
he’s home. Children, like adults, want company—especially the
company of their own families.
When your child wants to be with you, try to be understanding and
accommodate him when possible, knowing that this stage of
development is normal. When you need time for yourself at home, try
distracting him with an interesting puzzle, book, or box of toys
that he hasn’t seen for a while. You also can invite one of his
playmates for a visit. When your preschooler has friends over, he
may play happily without having you nearby; if the children are old
enough to play safely without close supervision, you can have some
time to yourself.
If you’re having adult guests over, try to anticipate your child’s
need for attention. Suggest he draw pictures for the visitors to
take home. Place some interesting toys next to your seat so he can
play nearby without having to involve you. Such diversions work, but
it’s unrealistic to expect him to leave you entirely alone. If you
exclude him, he may become demanding, silly, or whiney. But if you
partially include him, focusing attention on him at least some of
the time, you should be able to talk to your guests without too much
As he reaches the early elementary years, he’ll spend more and more
time playing with friends or occupying himself in his room, and less
time with you. One mother, whose seven-year-old always stayed close
to her when he was a preschooler, was surprised to find herself
greatly wishing he’d spend more time with her now.