We Get It: Parenting Clingy Kids

parenting clingy kids

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!

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

38 thoughts on “We Get It: Parenting Clingy Kids”

  1. Great advice! Thanks for writing this. My kids can be slow to warm up and I try hard not to label them by saying, “Oh, they’re shy.” when somebody comments on it.

  2. Mine are sometimes like that, but it’s becoming less and less common. I don’t always do well at being patient when they get like that.

    1. I’m pretty sure my friend made it up special for my little ones – which was why it was so surprising to hear that grandma use the same term in the kindergarten pick-up line!

  3. Great post. Anna can be slow to warm up to even though she is far from shy. I think you are giving your kids the right tools to face their fears and triumph over them.

  4. Thank you for your post. Both of my kids are very clingy and I usually don’t label them as shy unless they themselves do. I let new people know that it takes a bit of time for my kids to warm up to someone new, and not to take it personally.

  5. What wonderful advice! JDaniel has been overwhelmed when he goes to the playroom in the Y. I am trying to give him a chance to work on being less clinging, but it is hard sometimes to leave him so unhappy. He tends to warm up, but it takes him time to want to play.

    1. Crystal, there was a little girl at the hotel we stayed at near Story Land who looked SO much like your Rosie, and she was so fun to watch – definitely not remotely clingy!

  6. Great advice, Mary Ann. I could so relate with these example you’ve cited here because my daughter was pretty much like this – a velcro kid. Ha – I love that phrase.
    But, at about 4 or so..she metaphorphosized magically – into a really social, friendly, confident and hence – popular kid. The suggestions you’ve given here are bang on.

  7. Here in China kids who hold on to their mamas are called “sticky rice” babies :) Alec gets called that quite a lot! I think it’s a very cute (and always given affectionately) term for those moments when one hand (or all four limbs + face) seems permanently attached to a parent–like grains of sticky rice on a chop stick :)

  8. Velcro kids – that is cute! My son is a touch clingy and I actually enjoy all the love as you mentioned! I feel like I need to seek out my daughter and give her lots of cuddles since she is more outgoing and independent. I discovered this a while back when I hear her say that Mom love her brother more. It broke my heart! I try never to call my son shy – don’t want to give him a reputation to live up to. Instead I give him gentle encouragement but don’t push. I really like all your suggestions like discussing feeling and rewarding challenges.

  9. Elisa | blissfulE

    I seem to remember from reading a book about it that the kids who are more emotionally intelligent are the ones who stay back and observe for a bit before entering a new social situation. So I’ve always been proud of my kids for taking that time to observe. When people inevitably say something well-meaning about how they “must be shy”, I like to say “he/she just likes to watch” because I hate labels like that! Velcro (and ‘sticky rice’ in the comments) is pretty cute, though.

    1. Very interesting – makes sense, too. I feel like velcro and sticky rice are more descriptive and less judgmental, and they definitely have a cuteness factor. :)

  10. I’m glad YOU get it…unlike one side of the family who teases my 2 year old to no end…no matter what I say! I was the same way when I was younger and I am super close to my parents now. We are very lovey dovey and that’s how my daughter is with me and her dad. She cuddles and will randomly shower us with kisses. I love knowing that I am her comfort when she is scared. She warms up eventually. :)

    1. How frustrating. I hope they start to understand, eventually, especially since understanding could improve their relationship in the long run!

  11. a lot of this sounds so familiar to me. Bear tends to stick to me in new situations. as you said, he is polite, just not straying far. there’s always that invisible tether….going to try out some of your tips!

  12. Terrific post!

    My daughter is very clingy, and she is even slower to warm up to a new situation. I try to see all the benefits in being shy. She doesn’t rush into a decision without thinking about it clearly, and she assesses a person before she decides to befriend them. These can be great qualities as she grows older.

    1. Thank you, Danielle!

      There are definitely benefits to being shy, and I think you are right that they tend to pay off more as children grow older.

  13. Thank you so much for this post, my 4yr old son is a Velcro Kid for sure. It is very hard at times. My 22 month girl has her times but nothing like my son. Great post!!

  14. Thank you for the tips. Most of the velcro kids are really shy that’s why some of them feel that it’s safer beside their mom. I agree with your tips that their confidence should be developed.

  15. I love this! My autistic daughter has her days when she’s tightly attached and her days when she’s happy to just go go go! This was an awesome read! I’ll need to recommend it to my autism mama friends! Do you mind if I link to it on my blog? I think it’s excellent advice :)

  16. I’ve referred to my son as Velcro boy since he was a Velcro baby! It is nice to know he’s not the only 1! He is, and will be, an only so I worry he might never be brave but I really liked this post and it gives me hope that it gets better as he gets older. I agree, it is both a blessing and a curse :)

    1. It’s definitely gotten better with my kids as they’ve grown older, so we may as well enjoy the benefits while they are young :)

  17. Thank you for the advice. My kids have an extreme case of this. My daughter more so than my son did. Got a pup and it’s the same way, lol. My daughter is always clinging my legs and cries if I enter a room and close the door, or if I would have ever used a gate. Would not go to ANYONE without crying for me, sometimes not even dad. I have been with my kids since day one 24/7. I often wonder if im doing something wrong for it to be so bad. Maybe not giving enough attention/play. You know as mothers we always worry.

    1. I guess the puppy fits in with everyone else! My clingy kids have gotten much better as they have grown older, and I bet yours will as well. They do tend to stay close, even now, but I think that is part of why I get so many comments about my kids being well-behaved :)

      1. For the most part mine are well behaved. My son has cerebral palsey so he acts up more than her. Both kids are extremely sweet though. For the most part I have no complaints, but it can be too much sometimes.

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