Q: My 22-month-old always wants to be carried, but now she's getting too heavy to be constantly in my arms. She'll often throw a tantrum until I pick her up. What can I do?
A: Ah… the “I want up” syndrome—demanding to be carried 24/7. This is not uncommon. The key is to figure out why she wants to be carried all the time, which requires some detective work.
It may have to do with her developmental stage. Even positive changes bring challenges. Often when children make a developmental leap, such as starting to walk, being potty trained, or beginning preschool, they experience some sort of regression—backward movement in their behavior. While your big girl may be quite proud of her new independence, it can also feel scary to be so separate from you whom she has been dependent on for so long. This can lead to increased clinging and I want up! demands.
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? Life changes can 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? While you want to continue supporting her growing independence, it’s also important to 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 throughout 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 for that.
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.