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Why Would You Wear Your Toddler or Preschooler When They Can Walk?

by Jessica Martin-Weber
This post made possible by the generous sponsorship of Beco Baby Carriers.
Why wear your toddler when they can walk?

Photo credit: Your Street Photography, Meghann Buswell. Love this carrier? There are only two like it the whole world and you can win the other one by going here!

Once upon a time I found the whole idea of wearing a child who could walk completely… ridiculous. Seriously, how is that helping them? They can walk, you’re just trying to keep them little longer and probably inhibiting their development. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO, CARRY THEM ALL AROUND THEIR COLLEGE CAMPUS?

*If you just want the quick points on why maybe you should wear your toddler, skip to the end.*

I figured if you kept carrying your child after they learned how to walk, you’d end up looking like this.

Beco Carrier teenager

Photo credit: Your Street Photography, Meghann Buswell

Then I had a kid. Our first turned out to be a late walker and didn’t really become mobile until between 15 and 16 months old. By that point the other toddlers in our circles were running circles around her and I began to panic, in spite of our pediatrician’s reassurance, that she was never, ever going to walk. Worried that her my dreams of an Olympic gold medalist were fast slipping out of reach, I become a little pushy to get her to walk. And also because carrying her was killing my back and arms, back then we didn’t have any carriers with a high enough weight limit and I just plain didn’t want carry her. Well meaning people around me warned that she was just using me, being lazy, and would never become independent if we “let” her make us carry her all the time. We were “spoiling her” and we’d have to carry her FOREVER. So I pushed. Walk, you’ve got two legs, use them! Besides, you have to become self sufficient and independent some day. Sheesh.

You guys, she was really still just a baby.

But even after she started walking she wanted to be held a lot. In fact, she was timid and scared and insecure. To “help” her through that, I pushed her to be more independent. I’m not proud of this, in fact, it makes me sad. Looking back, me pushing her to walk when she wanted to be close to me was really a jerk thing to do. I would refuse to carry her or carry her for just a moment and then put her down even if she wasn’t ready. My fears were completely unfounded, today she walks and runs and dances ballet just fine. Not only that, after some therapy and healing, she is a self sufficient independent introverted 16 year old who has taught me that connection is more important and respecting individual personal ways of interacting with the world is what makes you not be a jerk of a parent. She didn’t need me pushing her to walk, she needed me available for lots and lots of connection until she was ready. To this day she prefers to observe the world from a bit of a distance before racing into it. But when she does race in, watch out, she has found her confidence and her voice to make a difference.

Since our eldest taught us about respecting our children as individual people, we’ve had 5 more children but it wasn’t until our 3rd that we began to wear our toddlers on purpose. Another introvert, our third daughter felt safest close to a parent and would for several years. Meaning when she was three and four, she still wanted up in certain settings. Instead of traumatizing her with environments she wasn’t ready to navigate independently, we listened to her. When she was ready, she would progress into the world around her on her terms and now confidently moves through the world secure in her steps and returning to us to share her adventures and discoveries. Now, with our almost 3 year old Sugarbaby, we let her set the pace for how she interacts with the world. All 6 of our children have unique personalities, some have loved being close and super snuggly for a long time, others just have moments they need to check in before rushing off again. Every single one of them has, at times, requested to be held and carried even after they could walk. Sometimes for physical reasons, sometimes for emotional reasons. All of their reasons are valid.

And so far, of our older girls, they each also reach a point where closeness doesn’t require us carrying them and we grow together in developing other ways to connect.

Because it turns out, you can’t spoil them by respecting them, they will eventually not want you to carry them everywhere.

Todllerwearing Beco

Photo credit: Your Street Photography, Meghann Buswell

Last year, just before she was 2 years old, Sugarbaby accompanied us to India, a culture of amazing people that adore children and love to touch young ones. Another introvert (we have a pretty even blend of introverts and extroverts in our home), she quickly learned 2 things: how to clearly say “go away, don’t touch!” and “Beco up!” From her safe position on my back she would offer high fives to the people who wanted to hold her, kiss her, and touch her face. Happy and secure in a place she knows to be safe, she interacted with those we encountered in a way that respected her unique way of being in the world. She runs, dances, jumps, and climbs freely but when she needs to be close or when her little legs are tired from all that exercise and strengthening, up into a carrier she goes on mommy, daddy, or even a big sister. Our long family walks or forays into downtown to go to markets and explore happen with a combination of her walking, running, hoping, and twirling (always twirling, she doesn’t really walk right now, she twirls everywhere) and when she’s tired, on somebody’s back. Occasionally she keeps me company during meal prep on my back when she tires of her spot on a stool.

And from the spot on my back and sometimes on my front she whispers in my ear “I love you mommy.” I don’t know how much longer she’ll ask to “Beco” but I’m willing to as long as she does.

For me the question isn’t why would you wear your toddler or preschooler, the question is why wouldn’t you.

Beco Toddler Two of a Kind

Photo credit: Your Street Photography, Meghann Buswell

7 reasons to wear your toddler/preschooler

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  1. Who doesn’t love snuggling? Besides, science shows us that positive physical touch is soothing and healing at all ages, it can even reduce pain. “To touch can be to give life” – Michelangelo
  2. Not only does touch heal, soothe, and connect, neuroscientists have found that physical human contact activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. All good stuff!
  3. Touch can reduce stress. Young children often ask to be held when they’re experiencing stress such as fear, anxiety, or uncertainty and for good reason, touch can calm them, lower their heart rate and blood pressure, and of course releases positive hormones such as oxytocin. Wearing a child who is experiencing stress can provide them just the support they need to successfully navigate that stress when they’re ready.
  4. Young children can become overstimulated quickly, having a safe place to work through that overstimulation can mean the difference between a toddler becoming a destructive force in the world around them, having a meltdown of tears and screams, or observing and interacting as they see modeled from their safe perch on a trusted adult’s chest or back.
  5. Running. Need I say more? Parents are all excited when their baby learns to walk but in a no time they realize their excitement was misguided. Walking leads to running. You know what you can’t lose at the children’s museum? THE KID STRAPPED ON YOUR BACK. Sure, you have to let them down from time to time but when their running is running you ragged and reminding them to walk 3,342,438 times has made you horse, a ride on mama’s back (hey, let’s play horsey!) is a relief.
  6. Strollers are awesome, a great tool and we use ours still. But strollers are not always awesome. The view is limited for the rider and sometimes the world just feels like an obstacle course when you’re dealing with one. An assisted piggy back ride with a carrier is much easier to contend with than a stroller in many settings.
  7. They love it. Not always and as they grow in their own desire of “I DO IT!” they will have times they most certainly do not want to be worn. But toddlers and preschoolers aren’t really much bigger than babies and they still love to be close. And that’s the best reason. There are plenty of times in life where we have to tell our children no and deny them what they think they want. Being close, being held, having our touch should never be one of them.

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Do you wear your toddler? Want to but aren’t sure if you should? What are your thoughts on toddlerwearing?

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For a limited time you can enter to win the same carrier pictured in this article by going here.

Parenting and Flexibility and Boundaries- more than surviving

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wall stretch, wall split

My eldest daughter can sleep sitting up, folded in half.  With her flexibility, her stretching classes for ballet offer very little challenge and her instructors are regularly encouraging to explore her limits further to find where she is challenged.  And so she does with oversplits and wall stretches and more.  But with flexibility comes the safety of boundaries.  A couple months ago Earth Baby injured her back by not respecting her own boundaries and in search of a challenge pushed her limits a little too far.  The consequence was a back worn out and unable to maintain her usual level of dance.  Rest and alternating heat/ice were prescribed along with arnica oil massages, baths, and very careful stretching.  It took her young body about a week to heal to a point where she could begin dancing again and in ballet a week is a very long time.  Particularly in the critical fall casting season.

Like Earth Baby, I have been growing in the areas of flexibility and boundaries, suffering consequences of putting one above the other along the way.  Nothing has developed these more in me than parenting.  Just as wanting to develop patience means more opportunities to practice patience, flexibility and boundaries become more tangible when we are aware of our need for them.  Children act as a magnifying glass on that need.

With breastfeeding we start out feeding on demand, their itty bitty tummies no bigger than a small marble or chic pea, they need food when they need food.  The relationship of milk supply and the infant suckling at the breast is so tied together that flexibility in being able to respond to our baby’s needs can have a critical impact on not only their immediate growth but future milk supply as well.  Recognizing normal infant behavior, we are the ones in the position to be flexible in order to meet our new baby’s needs.  But as time goes by, after that first year while flexibility is still important in our relationship with our child but lest we be pushed too far and become worn out, some boundaries may need to be put in place.  With supply firmly established and many successful feeding sessions under the belt, a toddler can not only handle but benefit from appropriate boundaries in the breastfeeding relationship.  Waiting a few minutes for mommy to finish the task she was working on when they wanted to breastfeed (such as dinner for the rest of the family, my toddlers always want to breastfeed when I’m making dinner), not permitting certain behaviors at the breast (pinching is a no go for me, I will not be pinched), or expecting a certain level of attention while at the breast (play time is play time, feeding time is feeding time, etc.) can not only save mommy’s sanity, it can begin to introduce boundaries as a part of a healthy, loving relationship.  A lesson I struggled to understand until well into my adulthood.

Western culture seems to be a little polarized regarding flexibility and boundaries in parenting, emphasizing one over the other as either good or bad parenting. In my experience the truth is we need both, flexibility and boundaries.  One without the other leads to either burn out or rigidity.  As a parent, flexibility helps me not only get through the hiccups that inevitably happen to my plans with having children, but enables me to enjoy the detours I discover with them.  With six children ages 7 months to 14 years, we all benefit from being able to go with the flow and adapting in order to be sure everyone’s needs are meet.  Boundaries are so important with our children, by modeling boundaries for myself in my relationship with my child at a developmentally appropriate stage, I’m helping her establish her own boundaries.  By being open and available to her with those boundaries in place, I have seen my children develop confidence that boundaries are a part of love and they are not insecure when they experience boundaries in other situations.  WIth age appropriate boundaries, it also encourages me when I feel my flexibility is becoming brittle and I’m wearing down because I know that there is a new stage coming where they will be capable of respecting new boundaries.

At 4 years old, Squiggle Bug is learning a lot about respecting other people’s boundaries in her relationship with her littlest sister.  A common phrase to hear in our house right now is “respect her boundaries please, does she need space?”  Increasingly I don’t even have to ask the question and after loving on her little sister, hearing a bit of a fuss, Squiggle Bug will back away saying “space, here’s some space.  I’m respecting your boundaries!”  Nine year old Lollie has discovered the importance of retreating to her room when she needs to clear her head and find some quiet admits the regular flow of energetic chatter that fills our home.  And I know that I’m better at being flexible the rest of the day if I ensure a 45 – 60 minute quiet time happens every day.  Boundaries are the fuel for my flexibility.

But perhaps most important are the boundaries and flexibility we have for ourselves.  In talking about boundaries and flexibility with my friend Sue, she shared: “Honestly, it was and is the most challenging thing to be flexible with myself, to give myself grace when I don’t measure up.  Other people’s expectations I can usually blow off, what do they know about me, but allowing myself the ability to fail without completely eviscerating myself in my thoughts- that’s hard.”  I can relate.

itti bitti cloth diaper

Sugarbaby in an itti bitti cloth diaper

After making the decision that we would cloth diaper I felt very strongly that we would never use a disposable diaper again.  So when a trip that would be impossible to do with cloth came about I tried so hard to make it work.  Flexibility to adjust as needed and boundaries about what I’d actually be able to do eventually won out but not without some self abuse that I wasn’t achieving my goals.  When I realized that I was not behaving in a way i would want for my children I had to relax and accept this new, temporary reality by using flexibility to help me respect my own boundaries.  Being flexible and adapting as the need arises is not a sign of failure or weakness, my family and I all benefit when I’m able to let myself adapt to respond to my children’s needs.  Neither is having boundaries any kind of failure, respecting my needs gives my family and me opportunities to grow.

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 Do you find the need for flexibility and boundaries?  How does this impact your parenting?  What examples of flexibility and boundaries have you experienced?  Do you find it more more challenging to be flexible and have boundaries in relating with others, your children, or yourself?  

How would you like to grow in these areas?

 

 

7 Toddler Skills I Could Live Without (or at least wait for later)

When we first have our babies each new developmental milestone and stage is exciting.  We look forward anxiously to signs that our little one is ok, normal, maybe even advanced.  Parents brag about how early their drooling bundle started holding their head up, smiled, rolled over and crawled.  Strangers ask “has she started walking yet?” upon encountering a mother or father with a baby anywhere over the age of 9 months in a stroller or carrier.

Then they actually start walking.  After the initial excitement wears off parents are hit with the reality that their once adorable slow mover is now an adorable potential disaster on two legs.  One that, before you know it, can outrun mom and dad and suddenly develops a stealth mode.

Walking isn’t where the patience testing, keep-you-on-your-toes talents for our little ones start and stop though.  No, within days most toddlers begin developing an entire arsenal of skills that they physically can accomplish but lack the developmental capabilities to use reason in applying and enjoy just for the fun of it.  Meaning: watch out.

Seven skills I wish my toddler couldn’t master before being able to explain why she needs to do it.

Climbing.
It’s great on a playground but toddlers figure out climbing by practicing on anything they can find handy: bookshelves, chairs, tabletops, counters, back of the couch… just about anything that is less than safe.  Any furniture that can should be bolted to a wall to prevent tipping and possible injury.  I’m glad my kids love climbing, I understand that it’s important for development even but the whole pushing chairs over to the counter to climb up and then into the cabinets to reach some snack instead of asking me for it does not help my blood pressure.  And I’ve had kids that climbed before they walked, getting their “I-can-freak-mommy-out” on even earlier.

Flushing the toilet.
She doesn’t even use it but she’s figured out that the sound it makes is cool plus she can say and wave “bye-bye.”  We try to keep the door closed but it’s forgotten from time to time and with 4 big sisters this isn’t surprising.  My favorite is when she accompanies me to the toilet and insists on flushing while I’m still sitting there.  Hello!

Turning on the facet.
The step stool in the bathroom seemed like a good idea for getting your child to brush their teeth but then they figure out how to turn the water on in the sink.  I get it, it’s way too much fun that every time you turn the handle water come out.  A trickle or a gush it’s like a mini-water park to a toddler.  Add in cups, spoons, and other water receptacles and it’s a complete adventure of splash time goodness.  As an added bonus it means the bathroom will get mopped.  Again.

Opening doors.
The best doors for a toddler to open are those that led to the rooms of big sisters.  Where big sisters have treasures and art supplies stashed or even better… candy.  I know there are door knob covers to keep curious hands from going into forbidden entryways but since my older kids also struggle with being able to open doors with safety knobs I can’t spend all day opening doors for everyone.  Instead we are all just trying to get smarter about our hiding places.

Opening marker lids.
Even more than glitter, markers are my least favorite craft supply.  The siren of all potential mess-makers, my toddlers simply can’t resist the call of colored ink with a felt tip.  Get the lid off and watch out walls, carpet, tables, clothing, faces, books… you name it.  I’ve banished markers from our house multiple times but somehow they always sneak back in to lure my toddlers into some sort of damage.  With bigger kids around now too there seems to be a particular affinity for the permanent kind.  Those lids should be child-proof.

Taking the diaper off.
No matter what kind of diaper my toddlers always eventually master taking it off.  Disposable, applix cloth, snaps, prefold and snappi, even diaper pins, my toddlers are diaper Houdinis.  Dirty or clean, if given the chance they will get it off and are guaranteed to run from me once the situation is discovered, more often than I care to admit running right through some #2 and leaving their mark everywhere.

Getting undressed.
For a while as long as there is clothing covering their diaper my toddlers forget about their magic trick of escaping the poop trap.  Then comes the fateful day when they realize they can take their clothes off BY THEMSELVES!  With my first born I clapped and cheered for this new milestone thinking of her blooming independence but those days are long gone now.  I just had no idea.  In a flash the child that I had ready to walk out the door is naked, clothes scattered, and shoes hidden all in the time it took me to grab my purse and keys.  Running around as though they’ve been craving fresh air on their private parts for decades, they squeal with delight while I sigh in exasperation.  It’s not like they go naked almost all day every day inside as it is.  I’ve given up on keeping clothes on them if we’re staying in, there’s no point, they’re just going to take it off anyway.

Getting ME undressed.
Because I’m *cough* “still” *cough* breastfeeding my children when they are toddlers they enjoy learning how to get to my breasts, on their own if need be.  It always puzzles me, have I not been responding to their requests to breastfeed easily and readily for the past many months?  Why suddenly do they need to alert me to their desire to breastfeed by taking it upon themselves to physically undress me?  Dear sweet child of mine, I am perfectly capable and willing to get my breast out for you to feed but we’re going to have some boundaries here and work on developing some breastfeeding manners, ok?  Trying to pull my shirt over my head as the first sign that you want to nurse is a bit rude.  Funny, yes.  The first time.  Maybe even the second.  But by the 115th time I’m not amused.  So here’s the deal, sign milk or ask for “bobbies” and it’s all yours but getting the boob out is left to me, mmmkay?

 

Thankfully we usually survive the toddler stage just fine with only a few less hairs on my head and my blood pressure only slightly more elevated than normal.  Reminding myself that it’s normal and actually a positive for them to explore and make messes helps me keep it all in focus.  Sometimes.  Besides, before I know it we’re into the stage where they can forcefully articulate why they want to do something and quite succinctly: “Because I want to!”

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What are some of your favorite toddler skills?

How have your toddlers kept you on your toes and how have you survived the challenge?