What to Do With a Toddler Who Wants to Be Held All the Time
“Mama, carry me!” is a request I’ve been hearing all too often lately. I’m a mama who loves to cuddle her babies. Hold them, hug them, and, yes, carry them. But when your 30-pound toddler is in the midst of a “carry me” phase that is preventing you from so much as walking across your living room unaccompanied, it gets old fast.
So, there are a couple of things to talk about. What’s going on here? Why does your toddler, who is usually fighting for their independence, suddenly insist on being nowhere but your arms? The second thing is what can you do about it? Check out these tips for what to do when your toddler wants to be carried all the time.
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What’s Going On When Your Toddler Wants to Be Carried All Day?
Maybe you have a toddler that has been determinedly glued to your side since birth. But maybe your toddler’s clinginess is new. The solution to your situation depends on if this is a new behavior or something ongoing.
What if this is New for your Toddler to Be Clingy?
If you more often find yourself chasing your toddler than longing to put them down and the demands to be carried and held are new, do some thinking about what could be making your toddler anxious or stressed.
Are they getting sick? Or just getting over something? Have they started a new daycare? Been moved to a toddler bed? Or started potty training?
A clingy toddler is often stressed or anxious. And nothing is more comforting than being held by the person they consider their anchor in an unsafe world. YOU.
And if you’ve recently given birth to your toddler’s sibling, forget about it! You’re in for a clingy few weeks (or months!) no matter what you do. (But there are still a few ideas for you at the end of this post!)
If your toddler’s demands to be carried are new and related to stress or life changes, there is a case to be made for indulging them. Offer comfort, carry them around, give them all the snuggles they need until they relax and return to their formerly independence seeking selves.
Having said that, sometimes you simply can’t carry your toddler around all day. If you have a new baby to carry or a sore back or for whatever reason can’t indulge your little one’s needs, check out tips #3 & #4 at the bottom of this post.
What if My Toddler Has Always Been Clingy?
If you’re 2 or 3 years in with a child who always wants to be carried, well the good news is that you probably have biceps of steel. But it may be more challenging to transition your toddler to greater independence.
But it can be done.
What to Do When Your Toddler Always Wants to Be Carried
1. Be Reassuring to Your Toddler When they Want to Be Held All the Time
Whether your child’s clinginess is new and most likely temporary or a long-term concern, a great first step is to reassure your child and create a sense of security.
Create a predictable routine for your toddler. Create a visual schedule your toddler can reference when they need reassurance. Tell them about any changes in routine ahead of time and reassure them you will be there for any changes.
Kids love routines and knowing what to expect. Emphasize that you are there for them whether or not they are actually in your arms.
Be responsive to your toddler’s feelings. Never shame them for clingy behavior. There are feelings and needs behind every behavior. Ignoring or shaming will have the opposite effect of what you want. Making your toddler feel more insecure.
2. Build Independence in a Clingy Toddler
Praise your child when they do something independently. And give them chances to succeed. Have your child help you with household tasks where you can heap on the praise for their growing independence.
Help your child master new skills like getting dressed, putting on their shoes, potty training, etc. Mastering new skills builds confidence. And praise is motivating. Much more motivating than shame ever will be. Let your child know how proud you are of what they accomplish. And be specific.
I try to always praise my daughter when she walks places with me and doesn’t ask to be carried. Praise the behavior you want to see more of.
3. Distract & Entertain Your Toddler When You Can’t Hold Them
Building independence and being reassuring are all well and good for the long-term, but sometimes you need some short-term solutions to get you through the days, hours, and minutes with a toddler demanding to be held.
If carrying your toddler isn’t an option or even when you just need a break, make a game out of walking.
Challenge your toddler to a race. Or tell them you’re both dinosaurs and need to stomp, stomp, stomp down the sidewalk together, or wherever you need to do to get them to walk. Tell them to run and you’ll time them. Or whatever you can come up with to make walking on their own more fun.
Another tactic is to create a diversion. Point out a caterpillar or a cool bug on the sidewalk outside. Or point out things they might like as you walk. In the house, offer an activity they enjoy but can’t do if they’re being held.
If they want to be held when you’re busy, enlist their help in what you’re doing. Tell them you can’t hold them right now but could they help you cook dinner? Or fold clothes? Give them a task or a job.
Most toddlers naturally want to be helpful and do things their favorite adults do. You can use this. Try to involve them in an activity or project where they can have fun without being packed around on your hip.
4. Create an Environment for Closeness with Your Toddler Without Carrying Them
One of my toddler’s favorite times to demand to be picked up is when I’m cooking dinner. It’s the end of the day for all of us and everyone is tired and fed up. So I sometimes have to get creative.
I like to try to find ways to do what I need to do but keep my toddler close. If you have a learning tower, you can enlist your toddler’s help in cooking (or whatever else you’re working on). Otherwise, see if you can set them up on a stool or chair.
If you’re folding clothes or trying to get some work done on the computer, try to set up an area near you where they can play or help with and imitate what you’re doing.
You can talk to your toddler about it. “I know you want mommy to hold you, but I’m cooking dinner right now. You can sit right next to me and draw pictures instead.” Or play with your dolls on the floor. Or help mommy fold. Whatever activity keeps them close without being carried. This is not the time to get them to play in their room.
If they protest, offer repeated reassurance that you’re still there if they need you. You’re right there, whether or not they are being held.
5. Carry Them When Your Toddler Wants to Be Held, Sometimes.
Sometimes you’ll just have to carry them. And the truth is holding a toddler is one of the greatest joys of parenting one. They’re sweet and little and loving. And they need you so much. It’s nice to be the world to someone. Especially, someone, you love so much.
I know, I know. And this isn’t one of those “cherish every moment” posts because sometimes those moments are freaking hard.
But your toddler needs you. And the need to be held and carried is extremely normal for a toddler. When it’s safe and reasonable, indulging them can be a good choice.
Having said that. When and if you carry them, set reasonable limits. Sit down if you need too. Even if they protest (why do they always want you to stand and hold them?!?!?). Make sure you’re lifting in a way that protects your back. Sometimes I set my daughter’s butt on the counter and let her lean against me to give my arms a rest.
The days are long but the years are short. Like every phase, good or bad. This one will end. Hang in there, mamas! Even if you’re hanging in there with a toddler on your hip.
Have you had a toddler who always demanded to be carried? What worked to get you both through it? Share your tips in the comments!
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