It can be challenging to work from home under normal circumstances, but during these unusual times getting your work done can be even harder when our littles have finished their own "work." In our household, this looks like my kids climbing all over me. I like it and am annoyed at the same time and wonder, "What's going on?"
Turns out this parent-as-jungle-gym phenomenon is really a form of clinginess—or a bid for attention—where subconsciously your kids are asking for your care. It's a sign that your child considers you a secure base to come back to for extra support when they perceive something as scary or unpredictable (like COVID-19), whether it's a minor or a major shift in their life, or the sense that a parent is stressed.
Periodic clinginess is a sign that your child trusts you—that you're doing things right.
A clingy, climbing kid is normal. Evolution made them clingy as a matter of survival. "Back when our ancestors were climbing trees and jumping across rocks and escaping predators as hunter-gatherers, their babies and toddlers literally clung on to them for support and protection," explained University of Minnesota attachment researcher Alan Sroufe during an interview in Slate magazine. But these days, the threat is the unknown.
"Children are seeking predictability and control in a world that feels increasingly uncertain, and they're taking that out on their parents, which is—of course—understandable but also can be quite difficult," stated UCDavis developmental psychologist, Ross Thompson.
When routines and lives are disrupted, and kids are trying to find their new "normal," clinging and climbing all over you can be a way of seeking your attention and letting you know that things definitely aren't normal.
During times of uncertainty, having the energy to climb all over you can also be a sign that your kids need to calm and regulate their emotions to relieve their stress. "When children (and adults for that matter) are stressed, it's tremendously helpful to have them get out of their heads and into their bodies," explains Hershberg. So if clinginess translates into climbing all over you, research has demonstrated that this physical activity lowers their stress level and heart rate.
According to renowned researcher and clinician, Dr. John Gottman, this kind of behavior can also be "bids" for you to play with your kids to connect through shared laughter and experiences. But if you are touched out from all the climbing and clinging, and just too exhausted from managing your own stress and all the things, play might not be on your list of things to do—and that's okay, mama.
Here are 10 things your kids can do with their energy to lower stress instead:
- Push a vacuum
- Climb a tree
- Build a fort
- Make an obstacle course
- Do animal walks like the crab walk or lizard crawl (only hands)
- Crawl backwards using hands
- Commando crawl (no knees)
- Jumping jacks
- Dig in the dirt, garden or sandbox
Most of all, it's important to allow yourself to have boundaries.
Teaching your kids that you have boundaries lets them know what you will tolerate—and helps them learn how to set their own boundaries in the future. According to parenting expert, Janet Lansbury, "Soft-hearted parents allow a child to climb all over them in my parent/infant class. The child is searching for limits and boundaries for his behavior. But moms and dads are often afraid to say, 'I don't want you to climb on me. You can sit with me. If you need to climb, there is a climbing structure over there.'"
As a parent, you make accommodations based on your kid's needs, but when those accommodations become too burdensome or invade your privacy, the cost outweighs the benefit. You can actually increase stress, rather than reduce it, which can potentially make the behavior even worse. So pay attention to how you are feeling, then meet your children's needs in ways that honor your own.
Bottom line: They're seeking your attention during a time of unknown. Responding to your kid's need for connection goes a long way to reassuring them that everything is going to be okay.