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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Shandi, age 5 weeks, seems to cry most in the afternoon and evening. By bedtime, her mother, Carlene, is exhausted and impatient. Very little seems to soothe Shandi—sometimes feeding calms her, sometimes swaddling does the trick. Sometimes it takes a walk outside. But sometimes nothing works. When Carlene’s mother calls one morning to see if she can help with the baby for a few hours, Carlene almost jumps for joy at the idea of taking a break from the crying.

Crying, difficult as it is to hear, is a normal way babies communicate hunger, discomfort, distress, or a need for your attention. Most newborns reach a crying peak at about 6 weeks. Then their crying starts to decrease. By 3 months, they usually only cry for about an hour a day. This is what is considered a “normal” crying pattern. 

Then there’s colic. Although all babies cry, some babies cry much more than others. This is a condition known as “colic.” It is defined as crying that:

  • begins and ends for no obvious reason 

  • lasts at least 3 hours a day 

  • happens at least 3 days a week 

  • continues for 3 weeks to 3 months


Keep in mind that excessive crying may have a medical cause—a food sensitivity, heartburn, or other physical difficulty. One common cause of excessive crying is gastroesophageal reflux (also called GERD). GERD is a condition that is normal and temporary for most babies. Reflux occurs when a baby’s muscular sphincter—where the esophagus enters the stomach—is weak. The weakened muscle allows acidic, gastric (stomach) fluids to reflux, or flow backward, up into the esophagus and sometimes reach as high as the mouth or nose. This process causes a burning sensation that naturally feels uncomfortable to the baby. To learn more about reflux and what you can do to help soothe a baby with GERD, click here

Although the cause of colic is unknown, the condition is temporary and won’t impact your child’s development. If you are concerned about how much or how intensely your baby cries, talk with his health care provider. 
  

 
Think about:
Thinking about the following questions can help you adapt and apply the information and strategies below to the individual needs of your child and family:

  • When you think about your baby’s crying, are there particular experiences or situations that you find upset her more than others? Why do you think that is?  How does this help you understand her better?

  • What calms your baby?  What have you tried that has worked? What does this tell you about your baby?

  • It is important to tune in to your own reaction to your baby’s crying. How it affects you impacts your ability to soothe her. Some parents are more distressed by their baby’s crying than others.  How do you feel when your baby cries?  Do you find yourself getting very upset yourself when your baby cries? If so, how do or can you calm yourself?

 

In this resource, you will find information on: 

The "Baby Blues" and Postpartum Depression


Steps for Soothing a Fussy Baby
 


Suggestions on When to Seek Help

You can also browse common parenting questions and challenges on topics such as:

      

The "Baby Blues" and Postpartum Depression
Having a baby who is difficult to comfort can increase parents’ stress and can contribute to the “baby blues” and/or “postpartum depression.” As many as 50%–80% of new mothers experience the baby blues in the first 10 days after childbirth. Symptoms may include tearfulness, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of loss. The baby blues usually get better after about 10 days. 

Approximately 8%–15% of new moms experience postpartum depression in the first year of motherhood, which is different from the blues. With depression, symptoms last more than 2 weeks and include feeling down and hopeless, increased crying, feeling little pleasure or interest in activities one used to enjoy, and loss of energy. If you are experiencing these feelings, it is very important—for you and your baby—that you seek help from a trusted health professional.  To learn more about baby blues and postpartum depression, click here.      Back to Top



Responding to Fussy Babies:  What You Can Do

Step 1: Observe and Learn

Identifying, as best you can, the reason for your baby’s crying will help you figure out how to respond to him in the most sensitive and effective way. The following questions can help guide you.

Look for patterns:

  • Are there certain times of day when your baby is fussier?

  • Are there specific situations that lead to crying such as visits to busy, noisy places (think grocery store) where your baby is overwhelmed by all of the stimulation? 

  • Are there differences in her cries for hunger, fatigue, boredom, anger, feeling overwhelmed?  For example, many babies will look away and arch their backs, in addition to fussing and crying, when they are overstimulated and need a break from play and interaction.


More specifically:

  • Is your child sick?  Teething? Tired?  Hungry?  Sad?  Mad?

  • Has there been a recent change in his world that may be making him feel less safe and secure overall? Perhaps he recently made the switch from bassinet to crib, or nana has just left after a long visit.

  • Is your child’s fussiness mostly around feeding? For example, does your baby tend to take a few sips from the breast or bottle, then arch her back, cry or fuss, and turn away? (This may indicate a cow’s milk protein sensitivity. Talk with your medical provider about what you are seeing to determine next steps.)  

  • Frequent irritability (that is worse after meals and when lying down), back arching, stiffening of the legs, and head turning may be symptoms of reflux. If you are seeing these symptoms, it is best to consult with your child’s health care provider to determine the appropriate response.


What’s Going On With You?
 

  • How are you feeling right now? Coping with crying can be very challenging.  What do you need to feel supported?  How can you get this kind of support?  Are there friends or family who can help out?  Is there a community resource for new parents where you can go for support?

  • Although crying is they primary way babies communicate, and they are not doing it to make you feel badly, it can be very difficult to take over long periods of time. When babies cry a lot, it can feel like nothing positive is happening between the two of you. Watch your baby carefully. How do you see your baby responding to you in positive ways?  For example, does he follow you with his eyes, or prefer to be held by you?  Does he turn toward you when he hears your voice, or calm when he sees you coming?  Soon, if not already, you will even be getting some smiles!   

 

Step 2:  Responding to your child, based on your best understanding of the behavior

There is not one right way to soothe a baby. Some babies love to be rocked when upset; others find that too stimulating and prefer to be walked slowly while in a baby carrier, snuggled close to a parent’s chest. Other babies are calmed by being put down in a safe place where they can take a break from the intensity of the world. 

It’s a process of trial and error. No one is perfect, and you don’t have to be. When a strategy doesn’t work, don’t blame yourself. Try something else until you discover what works for your individual baby in that specific moment in time. (A strategy that didn’t work yesterday may work today.) 

The fact is that sometimes, after trying every strategy you can think of, you will still not be able to comfort your baby. We all have had this experience. Being with a crying baby who is difficult to soothe can be exhausting, stressful, and frustrating. Keep in mind that just by being there—holding and comforting your child—you are teaching her that she is not alone and that you will stick by her through thick and thin.

Below are ways to support your baby and yourself:

Swaddle your baby. Some babies cry less when they are wrapped snugly in a blanket—called “swaddling”—and gently rocked. 

Use a baby carrier. Being held close as you go through your day can be very soothing.

Try different ways to hold your baby. Some babies love to be snuggled tightly against their parent’s chest. Some like to be able to look over their parent’s shoulder. Others prefer to be held faced away from you. Many respond well to the “football hold,” when a parent cradles her baby in her arms like a football. There is no right or wrong way as long as your baby is safe. 

Use soothing sounds. Talk or sing softly to your baby. Background noise can be soothing. Try running a fan or humidifier in your baby’s room.

Try different kinds of  movement. Some babies find gentle, slow movements like swaying soothing. Others actually are calmed by more vigorous movements such as swinging or faster rocking. 

Offer a pacifier or other safe object to suck. Some babies have a very powerful need to suck and find this action very soothing. 

Reduce stimulation—lights, sights, sounds, and textures—for your baby. Sometimes less stimulation leads to less crying, especially for babies with colic.

Give your baby a break. When nothing works to soothe your baby, give your baby a chance to try to soothe herself by putting her down in a safe place for 5–10 minutes. In fact, sometimes our efforts to comfort our babies actually overstimulate them and increase their distress, rather than soothe them.
Putting them down can actually be calming. Babies sometimes need a break from touching, talking, and interacting.  If your baby doesn’t calm down, no harm is done. You have gotten a few well-deserved minutes to rest and might have a little more energy to care for your baby.

Remember the crying will end. Usually the worst of crying and colic is over by the time your child is 4 months old. If your baby does have colic, it does not mean that he will be a difficult toddler. Colic will end.

Beware the quick fix. Cereal in the bottle? Colic drops? Rubbing something on baby’s gums? There in no evidence to show that these strategies work. There is no “magic wand” to stop crying. However, if you do decide to try a quick–fix remedy, check with your child’s health care provider first to be sure it is safe. 

Soothe yourself. You deserve it. Caring for a crying baby can be very stressful. But when you take the time to calm yourself, it helps your baby calm down too. If you find yourself feeling really frustrated, put your baby in a safe place—like the crib—and take a short break to give yourself the time you need, and deserve, to take a deep breath and calm down. 

Share your feelings. Talk to your partner, friends, and family. Look for parent or parent–child groups. In some communities there are also child development centers that provide support and guidance to parents struggling with their infants’ excessive crying. It can be very helpful to talk to other parents coping with similar challenges both to feel less alone and to share ideas and strategies. Ask your health care provider about these resources.

Get as much sleep as you can! Sleep deprivation makes everything more difficult. So try to get the sleep you need. Nap when your baby naps. When another caregiver can watch your baby, go back to sleep. The grocery shopping, housecleaning, and e-mails can wait.     

 

When to Seek Help

There are times when it is important to seek out the guidance of a trusted health care provider or child development professional to be sure your child’s development is on track. You and your baby need support during what can be a difficult time. Moments in which you and/or your child might need some extra help include:

  • If you do not feel bonded to your child because of her crying.

  • If you worry that you may hurt or harm your child (or yourself).

  • If your baby is taking in less milk or formula (his feeding patterns have changed) or has lost weight.

  • If your child seems to have a strong negative response to sensory stimulation like touch, noises, lights, smells and tastes, textures, or movement in space.  (He may be frequently irritable or fussy when exposed to new or strong sensory information.)

  • If your child’s crying began after she experienced a life change (such as a new caregiver) or following a frightening or traumatic experience.


Even if you or your child is not experiencing the kinds of challenges described above, it can be very helpful to talk to a child development professional who can provide guidance and support during this stressful period.     
 

 

Common Parenting Questions and Challenges Related to Colic, Crying, and Whining

My 3-week-old son wants to be held all of the time. I can't put him down without his crying within 5 or 10 minutes. He sleeps with me at night, and other than that, only naps if someone is holding him. I’ve tried white noise and swings and they don't work.

As tough as it can be for new parents who just want a few minutes to themselves (or even, dare we say it, the bliss of a solo bathroom break), the fact is that very young babies often prefer being held than being in any other position. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint—staying close to your source of food and protection is pretty savvy.

When you hold your son, he feels your body warmth and hears your heartbeat—a familiar sound from inside the womb. He smells your scent. When you cuddle him, he feels safe; it reminds him of the good old days back inside your belly. Plus, the closer he is, the more likely he is to be on the receiving end of your caresses and kisses.

But what can you do to get the breaks you need? Some parents find that a baby carrier or sling is a good compromise. These allow you to carry baby while you get things done around the house. Many a parent will tell you how even as they bobbed up and down while unloading the dishwasher, the baby never made a peep in the baby sling. This is also the perfect time to call some of those people who offered to help with the baby—friends, family, neighbors, or a postpartum doula—to come over for an hour or two to hold your son while you shower, send a few e-mails, run an errand or two, or just collapse into bed for a nap.

Because your son sleeps with you at night, he is probably used to falling asleep next to another warm body. So as far as his napping goes, you can either let him fall asleep in the baby carrier, or you can help him to begin learning how to sleep on his own. To do this, you can try swaddling him to mimic the feeling of being held and then putting him down. But stay with him and rock him, sing, or stroke his face or hand until he calms down. Babies this young simply don’t have the ability to calm themselves, so it’s important not to let him “cry it out.”

It will take time for your son to learn to fall asleep on his own; it’s a skill he will spend most of his first 6 months to 1 year mastering. So be patient, seek out help when you need it, and—even as you fantasize about a whole 30 minutes alone—realize that these early days and months fly by so quickly. Before you know it, your son will learn to crawl and walk, and you’ll be running to catch up with him! By the time he’s 10 and 12, you’ll be begging him for cuddles.

To learn more about sleep, visit the Sleep section of the ZERO TO THREE site.      



Our 1-month-old falls asleep while being held but cries within 5 minutes of being put down. We don't want her to sleep in the bed with us. What can we do?

You're not alone. This is an extremely common phenomenon. Babies who exhibit this pattern tend to be children who are particularly sensitive to the noises, lights, and other sensory stimulation in their environment. These are the babies who, for example, cry and turn away at the sound of a ringing bell versus other babies who seem to enjoy this type of stimulation, turning toward the bell and perhaps kicking their arms and legs in delight. (Then there are the babies for whom the sound is not stimulating enough. They may glance at it and then turn away.)

For “sensitive” babies, noises, lights, and movement are more likely to arouse and awaken them. When your daughter is in your arms, she's more protected from outside stimulation and from “startling”—a newborn reflex that causes her arms and legs to flail—another cause of wakening. Moreover, 1-month-olds are still adjusting to life outside the cozy womb. Being snuggled in your arms is much more like being nestled in the womb than when she's put down in the crib.

The first step in getting your child to sleep is to observe carefully for signs of fatigue and to put her to bed at that time. Don't wait until she gets her second wind. Many parents decide to just keep their baby awake and play longer, hoping she'll get really tired and fall deep asleep. However, the opposite is usually true.  Children who are overtired actually have a more difficult time falling and staying asleep and are more likely to wake up during the night.

Next, if your child is sleeping in a crib, try a bassinet as it's cozier for a tiny baby. “Swaddling”—wrapping baby up in a blanket like a little burrito—is also very comforting for many babies and prevents them from startling.

Once you put your daughter down, don't pick her up right away as sometimes babies awaken slightly, fuss, let off some steam, and then get themselves back to sleep. You don’t want to interrupt that process. If after 5 minutes or so her fussing starts to increase rather than decrease, try patting her stomach or talking to her soothingly before picking her up to see it that is enough to calm her. If not, pick her up, rock her, and then try to put her down again. If she finds the pacifier calming, offer her one. However, while you soothe her, keep interaction and stimulation to a minimum. Avoid turning on the lights or talking to her, as these are likely to arouse her and make it harder for her to fall back to sleep.

Helping your daughter to fall asleep by holding and comforting her is what most babies this age require. It will not encourage bad habits at this young age. It's just exhausting! But be patient. By the time your child is between 4 and 6 months, she'll be better able to soothe herself and you can begin to help her fall asleep on her own.    



My 2-month-old cries hysterically when I dress and undress him. It makes me feel awful, but what do I do?

Many babies protest being changed. The experience of going from feeling warm and cozy to being exposed can be very uncomfortable. Imagine what being in the womb must have been like: warm and protected, soft and comfy. Your baby still prefers feeling like that now that he's out in the world. It's no wonder he loves being in a warm onesie and swaddled in a blanket. When he finds himself naked and chilly on the changing table, he lets you know he doesn't like it one bit the best way he knows how—by crying.

Certain factors make changing especially distressing for young babies. One is that infants can't regulate their body temperature very well. When they're undressed, the temperature drop feels dramatic, and it takes them longer to warm up again once they're clothed again.

Also, when you change your baby, all different parts of her body are being touched, pushed, and tugged as clothing is pulled over his head and up and down his arms and legs. For babies who are especially sensitive to touch, the experience can be particularly uncomfortable. They show it by pulling away, arching their backs, and crying.

Be sure to plan ahead and make dressing as gentle and quick as possible. Have a clean diaper, baby wipes, and your child's change of clothes close at hand. Consider using warm diaper wipes (you can buy a wipe warmer) or moisten paper towels or a washcloth with warm water. When changing your child, drape a soft towel or blanket over his body to keep him warm. Or, avoid getting him naked all at once: Take off the bottom part of his onesie and change his diaper while he still has the top part on. You can try distracting him with a mobile above the changing table or by singing and talking to him while you change him.

The most important thing you can do, however, is stay calm. When you get upset, your baby senses it in your facial expressions, your tone of voice, and in the way you touch him as you try to rush to get the process over with quickly. So take a deep breath, and remember, the crying is not about you. Reassure your baby—and yourself!—by talking reassuringly to him: “I understand you don't like this, sweetie. I'll just be a few more seconds. I'm putting your pajamas on now.” Even though he doesn't understand your words yet, your soft, loving tone will send the right message.    

 

My 2-month-old cries so much more than my friend’s babies and than my first child. It’s stressful to deal with. But my biggest concern is if this has any bearing on how fussy she will be as she gets older. Will she be crankier than other kids who cried less as babies?

By and large, the research shows that young babies who are fussy are not more likely to grow up being crankier than those who were not fussy. 

There are several reasons for fussing:

  • Some babies’ central nervous systems are more sensitive and reactive to stimulation from the outside world. This makes them more likely to experience sensory overload, which causes more irritability. As they mature over the first 3 to 4 months, they usually become better able to handle all of the sights and sounds they’re encountering and are therefore less irritable and fussy.

  • Your infant might be dealing with “reflux,” a temporary condition, that occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach is relaxed. This allows acidic stomach fluids to back up into the esophagus, causing an uncomfortable burning sensation. If you are concerned your baby might have reflux, it is important to talk to your child’s health care provider.

  • If your baby cries continuously for more than 3 hours, 3 days a week during the first 3 months, she may have “colic.” (Up to 20 percent of babies have it.) Although the cause is unknown, the condition is temporary and won’t impact your child’s development.


Whatever the cause of your child’s crankiness, what’s most important is to find ways for both you and your baby to cope. Your feelings matter. When parents are highly stressed, it affects how they interact with their babies and can increase babies’ fussiness. Even young babies pick up on what their parents are feeling.

If nothing you do to soothe your baby works, put her down for 5 to 10 minutes. Sometimes babies, and you!, need a total break from stimulation—the rocking, singing, and talking—to calm down.    

 

My son is 7½ months now and has started making whining sounds when he wants something. Some days it seems he whines all day. Should we be doing something different to make him happier on days when he's fussy?

It's not easy being a baby. They have lots of thoughts and feelings but so few ways to communicate them. As newborns, babies rely heavily on crying to let their needs be known. “Whining” is actually a step forward in their communication skills: The tears have turned into sounds. That's not to say that whining can’t be incredibly irritating. But it’s normal. Like most aspects of children’s development, this too shall pass as your baby learns to use more sounds and gestures, and later words, to communicate.

A good deal of your son’s whining may be out of frustration. Seven-month-olds are on the verge of developing many new skills, such as getting into a sitting position by themselves and crawling. Until they master these milestones, they can get cranky and discouraged. Try to put what you think your son wants to say into words: “You can’t reach the toy. That’s so frustrating! Let’s see how we can help you get it.” Even though he may not understand what you’re saying, your soothing voice and actions will let him know he’s being heard, which may reduce the whining. Over time, as he begins to understand the meaning of your words, you are helping him learn how to express his own feelings, a critical life skill.

Another possible cause of the whining is boredom. Your baby may need more stimulation or interaction. Try introducing the next level of toys to him: ones that teach cause and effect like pop-up boxes and activity centers. Play games where he can take turns with you, such as rolling a ball back and forth. When all else fails, go for a walk or take a ride in the car and talk about all you are seeing for a change of scene.

As for how to handle particularly fussy days, first look for any patterns in your child’s behavior. Does he usually get fussy after a night of little sleep or on days when there's too much or too little activity for him? If you think fatigue is the culprit, try to limit his activity that day and make sure he takes his naps. Whether or not you can figure out why he seems cranky, what's most important is to try to stay calm and be patient as this will likely have a calming effect on him too. Remember, all babies have their fussy days.     



Without fail, as soon as I answer the telephone my 1-year-old starts fussing for my attention. How does he even know there's something else on the phone? What should I do?

One mom tells the story of calling a local child care center when her daughter was 9 months to see if there were any openings. “I dialed the numbers, got the answering machine, and tried to leave a message. Instead, all they heard was ‘Hello, this is WAAAAAAAH. I have a baby and WAAAAAAAH. Please let us know if WAAAAAAAH.’ Later, the center director told her that messages like hers were common, but at the time she couldn’t help thinking: “Kiddo, you get my full attention for 23¾ hours a day—can I have 15 uninterrupted minutes on the phone, please?”

Babies bask in our attention. They light up at the sight of our faces and are comforted by our voices. We are the first ones they go to with a boo-boo and the last ones they want to see at night before they fall asleep. That’s the good part. The tough part of being your baby’s number one person is that when something distracts you from your child—something that you respond to right away, and that seems very important to you—he naturally sees it as competition and is dead set on winning back your attention from this hard plastic foe. This is actually a pretty complex achievement on your son’s part, associating the telephone with “losing” you, even if it’s just momentarily. So your son is doing some important learning, making the kind of intellectual leap that he’ll use again and again to make sense of how the world works.

Here are some strategies that can help your child cope with this loss of attention and make life less stressful for you: 

Set aside a basket of “telephone toys.” These are special toys that your son gets to play with only while you’re on the phone. When you need to take a call, announce: “Let’s get your telephone toys!” Soon the sound of the phone ringing will mean a special opportunity to play with a new set of goodies. (Just be sure to keep rotating and refreshing this basket to keep it new and exciting!)

Let him join in. Pick up a play telephone or even a “real” telephone that is not plugged in. As you answer the ringing phone, give your child his telephone to press the buttons, talk into, bang, and chew.

Make your phone time his snack time. Set your child up with a healthy snack while you talk. Offer “interactive” food—fruit with yogurt dip, cheese sticks that can be cut into little pieces to stack, pea pods that can be squeezed, and so on.

Establish certain times of day that are phone free. Think about what part of the day your child is most alert and most playful. During that time, make sure that you keep some time phone free, chore free, and distraction free. Knowing that he can count on having you all to himself for an extended period each day will help your son cope more effectively with brief telephone separations.

Resist using the phone while you’re out with your son. When you go to a playground, think of all the parents you see talking on their cell phones while their children play alone. Everybody gets important calls, has bad days and needs to talk to a friend, or has to remind a spouse to pick up something at the store. But when you spend lots of your “together” time with your child talking with someone else, it takes time away from meaningful interaction and is sure to make the phone a real enemy!  

As children grow, they become better able to cope with waiting their turn and amusing themselves. Like many behaviors we see in the first 3 years, these skills will emerge as your child grows and matures. For now, taking some of the steps described above will let your son know that, no matter who is on the other end of the line, he is still your number one caller.    



My 15-month-old daughter is very curious and playful, but if she doesn't have someone to interact with—especially me—she whines and for attention. How can I encourage her to entertain herself?

Independent play is a skill that takes time for young children to develop. Start by creating a basket of special toys for your daughter. Fill this basket with a few toys and books she likes, as well as interesting, safe gadgets like a whisk or hand broom, and fun “stuff,” such as a lacy scarf or an empty egg carton. Sit down and begin playing with her. Then, when she gets involved with a toy or object, slowly disengage yourself. Stay in the same room and begin an activity of your own: reading, folding laundry, and so forth. When she naturally solicits your attention, stay connected but in a less intense way, such as by commenting on what she is doing. “Wow, you pushed the car all the way over here to mommy. Can you push it back now?” Or, tell her that you will be over in a minute, then comment on what a good job she did waiting. 

Try to extend these independent playtimes by a few minutes every few days. This will help her learn how to play on her own and adjust to not having you directly involved. If independent play is part of her daily routine, she is more likely to accept it.

Keep in mind that a child’s ability to entertain herself will vary based on her temperament. High-energy, high-intensity kids are likely to have a more difficult time with this than those who are more laid-back and easygoing by nature. The key is to sensitively and gradually help your child learn this skill based on her individual approach to the world.    



My 27-month-old always wants to be carried, but now she’s getting too heavy to be constantly in my arms. She’ll often whine or throw a tantrum until I pick her up. What can I do?

Ah . . . the “I want up” syndrome. This “clinging” behavior is often a signal that your child is going through a time of increased insecurity and wants to be “babied” a bit more than usual. Here’s where the detective work comes in: figuring out the why behind her behavior.

It may have to do with her developmental stage. Even positive changes bring challenges. Often when children make a developmental leap, such as starting preschool, they experience some sort of regression. Although your big girl may be quite proud of her new independence, the separation can be scary, which can lead to increased clinging and demand for “I want up!”

It is also important to look at what else is going on in her world that might be making her feel less secure. Is there a new baby in the house? A recent move from crib to bed? A new babysitter or child care provider? Oftentimes these life changes will lead to a period of insecurity until she sees that despite the change, her world is still a safe place to be.

What to do? Although you want to continue supporting her growing independence, you should address her underlying need for support and reassurance. This means creating opportunities to spend more one-on-one time together. Give her extra cuddles throughout the day. Cozy up on the couch to read books for a little longer than usual. Spend a few extra minutes bonding at bedtime.

To encourage walking, first validate her feelings and then offer an alternative: “I know that you want mommy to carry you, but I can’t right now. What I can do is hold your hand.” Encourage her by connecting walking with her own goals: “Walking will help make you a faster runner on the playground!” Tell her how proud you are when she uses her “walking feet.” You can help her slowly adapt, for example, by offering to carry her from the car to the mall, rather than through the entire shopping trip. Finally, you can offer her the stroller. Many toddlers go back to strollers for a while until they decide on their own that they’re too big.

Growing up, while exciting, can also be scary. Pretend play is perhaps the most powerful tool for helping toddlers explore the developmental and emotional challenges associated with becoming a big kid. Create a scenario in which a doll or stuffed toy wants to be held all of the time. Explore through play why the “child” might want to be carried. Watch how your child responds and encourage her to come up with alternate solutions. You can extend this play when you go out by having your child push her “lovey” in the stroller. This is a safe way for her to experience being in the big-girl role, with the option to sit down when she needs a break.

With some extra nurturing and gentle encouragement, she will work through this phase and make the transition to walking as a regular form of travel. Best of all, she’ll have developed some important new skills—emotional and physical—that will help her be more resilient and confident as she continues to grow and change through her toddler years.     Back to Top

 

This resource was made possible by generous funding from the Carl and Roberta Deutsch Foundation.

Authors:  Rebecca Parlakian and Claire Lerner, LCSW, ZERO TO THREE


Contributor:  Amy Hunter, LICSW, ZERO TO THREE

  

 

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