High River United Church of High River, Alberta


What To Do with Clingy, Cranky Kids during Physical Isolation!

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What do I do with my cranky, grumpy, clingy kid? You might be noticing that your children or grandchildren are more clingy, demanding, and out of sorts than usual.  That isn’t surprising. Whether they are 2 months, 2 years or 12 years old, they are feeling the emotional effects of this pandemic as much as the adults. 


A child doesn’t have to cognitively be able to understand what is going on before they feel the emotional effects. Babies and toddlers pick up the energy of their parents and grandparents.  They sense, without any rational analysis needed, that the people who care for them are stressed and anxious.   Wouldn’t you start to feel more cranky and clingy if you felt that those caring for you were stressed and anxious?  Of course. It doesn’t take rational thought.  Children, especially the youngest, are dependent upon their adults to care for all their needs, to feed them, clothe them, and provide the stability they need to grow and mature.  Children know this intuitively.  So if their adults are stressed, they are going to be stressed as well, and they are going to seek out their adults when they are stressed.


The hard part is that we as adults are stressed about what is happening right now.  We are worried about many things in the middle of this pandemic. Will we or a family member catch the coronavirus? If so, how sick will we be? How will we make out financially? What will the economy look like for the next years? When will the children get to return to school, and will they be set back in any way?  and more…..


We have much we are stressed and alarmed about as adults in the middle of this pandemic, so when our children come to us, clinging, grumpy and demanding of our time, we may not be at our best to respond to them.  When we are feeling stressed ourselves, a clingy child might seem like one thing too many…. BUT….


Our children only have us.  We are the place they should turn when they are feeling stressed and anxious.  That is the role we have taken on as parents and grandparents – to be our child’s answer – not to have all the answers, but to be the answer to their need for love, contact, closeness, and care.


So what do we do when we are stressed ourselves, trying to deal with clingy, cranky kids?


First of all, remember that your children are stressed by this situation just like everyone else.  The emotions they are feeling are normal and natural in the midst of this pandemic.  And, if they are feeling this way, they should be coming to you as their caring adult.


Second, hugs, hugs, and more hugs. Your children need the physical contact from you, so give them lots of hugs.  Hug them spontaneously.  Don’t wait for them to ask.  A hug given to them before they ask provides more for them than if they have to ask for a hug. HUG!!!


Third, if you can’t stop at the moment to do something with your child, can they play alongside you or help you in some way?  If you provide some time of closeness immediately, you’ll find that the clinginess settles sooner.  The more you push the child away, trying to get them to do something else, the more they’ll want from you.  So, pull them close - right now!


Fourth, always point to the next time of connection. Plan family activities, or one on one activities with each child (if possible), and remind the kids of when they are going to happen.  Movie time with popcorn, planting the garden, reading a book together, creating cards to send to grandma & grandpa, playing a board game, shooting hoops on the driveway, doing yoga together, going for a bike ride …. choose a daily family activity that engages everyone and set an appointed time. If the kids are clingy, give them a hug, and then say, “I can’t wait until we bake brownies together at 4:00 pm. Would you think about what we’ll put on top of the brownies today? Now I need to finish this work, but remember 4 pm is brownie time!”


Fifth, develop a spiritual practice that you can do together with your children.  We are people of faith for a reason.  Welcoming God into our lives means we have a place to rest with our fears and worries, our doubts and disappointments.  The greatest gift we can give our children is to help them know that God is with them; they are not alone.  So find a time each day to light a candle, and share a prayer together. Talk about fears and worries, as well as what you are thankful for, and place everything in God’s hands.


Finally, bring in reinforcements. This isn’t as easy with physical distancing, but still possible. If you have a partner, can you take turns reading stories and engaging with the kids?  Could grandma or grandpa or an aunt or uncle read a story to the kids and interact with them through an online platform?  While we might be paying attention to the amount of screen time our kids have, screen time where the child is interacting with other people is much better (and can be allowed more) than gaming time or television time.


This time of stress and alarm is not a time when we are at our best.  Our children are also not at their best.  They are going to turn to us because they don’t know what else to do.  As their caring adults, we need to be there with lots of hugs, lots of closeness and connection.  We need to have our own ways of bringing our alarm and anxiety down, so that we can in turn bring the alarm and anxiety down for our kids.


The best message our childnre need to hear from us in this time is:


“I love you! I’m going to take care of you.  God has made human beings to be amazing, creative and imaginative, so our family and the whole world is going to find a way through this.  And the best thing right now is that we are together and I love you!”


The amazing thing is that the more we provide connection and closeness for our children before they come asking or clinging to us, the less alarmed and anxious they’ll feel and the less they’ll come clinging.


So I invite you – Go! Give your children a big, enormous hug right now!

April 30, 2020          ©Susan Lukey 2020

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