on raising self-reliant little people

My across-the-street neighbor talked me into joining our local MOMS Club with her. We went to a meeting last week, and today was our first big outing: lunch at Red Robin with a bunch of other moms and their kids.

I’m not sure if it’s Cate’s age, or if she’s still traumatized by the move (hasn’t the statute of limitations for move stress expired by now?), or if this is part of her personality, but whenever Cate’s around a large crowd of kids, she tends to freak and get super-clingy. It happens at the gym’s daycare, and in that case it makes sense because she knows I’m going to leave for 45 minutes. But when we’re in a restaurant? And I’m sitting down at a table with her in my lap? Why the need to try to claw up my torso and bury her face in my neck? I don’t get it.

It bothered me more than it should have, probably. I’m sure none of the other moms were judging me, but all of their kids were sitting happily either in high chairs or in booster seats, eating the food on the table in front of them. Cate wouldn’t stop whining long enough to release her death grip on my neck and turn around to see the other children OR the food in front of her, nevermind sitting in her own seat. So it was sort of awkward. “Hi, we’ve never met. I’m Cindy, and this whimpering mound of blonde hair sticking out of my shoulder is my daughter Catie.”

One of the women I met today mentioned that the MOMS Club’s playgroups might be good for us. They divide the kids into appropriate age groups (0-12 months, 12-18 months, 2-3 year-olds, etc.) and have playgroups at a certain club member’s house once a week. She mentioned that if Cate spends enough time around other kids and their moms, eventually she might get used to it and start to relax and be a little more confident in group settings. Maybe she’s right, but I’m scared to think of what kind of horrible impression my child and I might make on these other moms until Cate gets used to them.

But really, we’ve been going outside every day to play with the other kids in the neighborhood, and even though she knows all of them, she still freaks out and clings to me when there are too many kids around, or if they get too loud and rambunctious (like today, when there were about 8 kids jumping in a pile of leaves in one neighbor’s yard). And she hasn’t warmed up to any of the other moms, even though she sees them almost every day.

Part of me just shrugs this off as being part of her personality. She’s always been a snuggler, and she’s always seemed to need a little extra reassurance whenever we’re in a new situation. But sometimes (like when I’m around a whole slew of other kids her age, none of whom are freaking out like she is), I wonder if it’s something that I’m doing wrong. Like maybe there’s something I should be doing to encourage her to be more self-sufficient.

I know this is a phase. It’s not like she’s going to be burying her face in my neck on her first day of college. But I do worry about what happens in the interim. I read blogs by women who have kids that freak out every day over preschool and kindergarten, and I don’t want that for her. I want her to be able to enjoy a wide range of activities without fear or anxiety. I’m just not sure how best to foster her sense of independence.

On Friday, there’s another MOMS Club outing to a local park. I figure that we’ll try it out and see how it goes. Cate generally loves any activities that are outside, so maybe she’ll be fine. Who knows. It’s worth trying, anyway.

3 thoughts on “on raising self-reliant little people

  1. I think I remember reading somewhere that this is the age where kids get stranger anxiety. Maybe Cate hasn’t quite figured out who is friend and who is foe? Also, just my two cents here, if my Miss C senses that I am uncomfortable in a situation, she will be uncomfortable too. Who knows. Might just be that she wants you to herself! She’s a great kid whether she wants to hang out with other kids or not, so I really wouldn’t sweat it too much. We know you are a great mom!

  2. Hey there… So, I’m not a child psychologist, but I do know that all kids are born with a certain temperament, and it’s like an inborn way of reacting to a dealing with the world. Some kids are more fearful, some need more stimulation, some less, etc. I would just encourage you to not look at it as something that you’re “doing wrong.” That doesn’t mean that as a parent you can’t “do anything about it,” by encouraging your kid in different ways or helping to structure their environment in one way or another, but those things take time to figure out…. Anyway, I guess my point is just that all kids have different temperaments and it doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong! You’ll figure it out. And I guarantee that not all the other kids are perfect little extroverted angels who never struggled with anything. 😉

  3. I really don’t think there’s anything you’re doing wrong at all– Cate has a slow-to-approach temperament for sure. On top of that, she is at an age where she looks to you for validation that a situation is OK/safe. So to some extent, she might always be slow to approach, but right now whenever you provide a positive, reassuring tone for her when she’s in a new setting, she will feel more secure leaving your side. And then of course you’re a a safe home-base for her to revert to whenever she needs to.

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