Do you have clingy kids? I have three, although I prefer the term “velcro kids”, which I first heard from a friend of mine and a grandmother echoed a couple weeks ago in the kindergarten pick-up line. All of the other younger siblings were running rampant. Johnny and Lily were also running – a tight circle around my legs.
Clinginess isn’t all bad. I rarely have to worry about my children going places they shouldn’t, or bolting across a parking lot. My three little ones are incredibly affectionate with both me and their dad – we always feel very loved, and very appreciated. They like to observe and figure out the rules before jumping into a situation – which means they rarely need to be redirected from inappropriate behavior. They are usually polite to other children – they don’t accidentally knock younger/smaller children down, or grab toys. And they are good at following rules.
It also has its downsides. My kids are called “shy”, constantly, and – while there is some truth to that term – all three adore opportunities to be in the spotlight, which many adults assume they would not be interested in.
And there can be a LONG warm-up period. If we haven’t been to a friend’s house for a while, it isn’t unusual for them to stay very close for the first 45 minutes or so. Then they are ready to play for a few minutes, before it is time to head home. Even play dates at our house can be intimidating to my kids – it isn’t unheard of for them to leave their toys to a friend and huddle on the couch next to me.
Velcro kids don’t stay stuck to you forever! My six-year-old has become quite adept at running off with friends for play dates, and my four-year-old is well on his way. Even my two-year-old is showing increasing independence.
I have also learned a few things along the way, that have helped me to encourage my children’s growing confidence:
- Patience and specific praise when children are brave pay off. Getting frustrated when they are not usually has the opposite of the desired effect.
- My kids are more confident if they are told what to expect in advance. This is especially true if we are going somewhere that is going to be crowded or noisy.
- For play dates at our house, I find my kids do best if we plan out an activity or two to introduce their friend to at the beginning of the play date. This structure gives them confidence, and allows them to feel some control over the situation.
- Building emotional intelligence – teaching kids how to express their emotions with words, so that others understand what they are feeling – can make a big difference. I can help in the moment, as well as providing the necessary vocabulary to discuss an incident later on at home.
- If kids are scared, treat the emotion with respect, then work with the child to come up with a plan to help them be brave. My daughter was SO excited about her kindergarten end-of-year performance, and then – the morning of – got terrified and wanted to stay home. I knew she would be disappointed about missing it if I really kept her home. So I validated her fears, gave her time and space to calm down, and we worked out a plan to help her work through the fear. She decided it would be fun to have a small surprise – a simple card that I made with her siblings right before the concert – to look forward to at the end. She enjoyed the concert, was proud of facing her fear, and afterwards read and re-read her card.
- Don’t expect them to act shy. Every once in a while my kids feel incredibly confident. Specific praise can reinforce this behavior (I liked that you raised your hand to and spoke your answer so clearly), while reacting with too much enthusiasm can make them self-conscious.
- Give “shy” kids the opportunity to be in the spotlight – more than once! They may whisper their lines into the microphone, but then go home incredibly excited about the experience. And they need the practice to learn how to speak up!
- Stay calm. A clingy child is usually feeling some level of stress, and the last thing they need is your stress added to their own.
What is your best advice for parenting a “velcro” child?
I wrote this post as part of the “We Get It” parenting series at The Golden Gleam. Check out the other contributors’ articles on night terrors, determined kids, perfectionism, and more!