Q: My toddler always wants to be carried, but he's getting too heavy to constantly be in my arms. He'll often throw a tantrum until I pick him up. What can I do?
A: Ah…the "I want up" syndrome. This clingy behavior is often a signal that your child is feeling insecure and wants to be babied a little more than usual. Often when children make a developmental leap, such as starting preschool or moving to a bed, they experience some sort of regression. While your big boy may be quite proud of his new independence, the separation can be scary, leading to increased clinging. Take a look at what's going on right now that might be making him feel less secure. Is there a new baby in the house? A recent move from crib to bed? A new babysitter? Did he switch rooms or caregivers at child care?
To reassure your son, find opportunities to spend more one-on-one time together: Cozy up on the couch to read books for a little longer than usual, spend a few extra minutes bonding at bedtime, and give him extra cuddles throughout the day. Then, when he asks to be picked up, validate his feelings but offer an alternative. Say, for instance, "I know that you want Mommy to carry you, but I can't right now. What I can do is hold your hand." Then tell him how proud you are when he uses his "walking feet," and connect walking with his own goals: "Walking will help make you a faster runner on the playground!"
If he's still resistant, you can help your son adapt more slowly by offering to carry him from the car to the mall, for example, rather than through the entire shopping trip. Finally, you can offer him a stroller. Many toddlers go back to strollers for a while until they decide on their own that they're too big. Or suggest that your child push a favorite stuffed animal in the stroller. This is a way for him to experience being a big boy with the option of sitting down when he needs a break.
Growing up, while exciting, can also be scary. But with some extra nurturing and gentle encouragement, your son will work through this phase.
From "Your Child's Behavior," a column written by ZERO TO THREE in American Baby magazine.