When Will My Toddler Be More Independent?

Mother nursing toddler on beachIf you’ve ever worried that your toddler will never stop wanting to be carried everywhere, or if you’ve wondered if nursing has made them too dependent on you, then you are not alone.

Hannah R. recently asked: “My daughter is almost one and still wants to be carried and nurse All. The. Time. When will this let up? I want her to be more independent.”

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th edition) reassures parents on page 185: “Independence comes from feeling secure, and your role right now is to continue to provide that secure base, just as you have been. Some…simply need a secure base longer. Wise parents have often said, ‘Meet the need, and the need goes away. Ignore the need, and the need remains.’”

When we asked parents on the La Leche League USA Facebook page to share their own experiences with toddlers and how dependent – or independent – their toddlers were, we received a variety of responses offering empathy as well as suggestions to ease frustrations on those days when you may feel a little too touched out. Following are a few highlights from that conversation.

(Editor’s Note: During the early years, even a month or two can make a huge difference in how ready your child is to be more independent. Some of the suggestions offered may not work well for your one-year-old but could be just what you need for your 18-month-old. Your toddler will let you know when they’re ready to take that next step – literally! – away from you.)

Donna B., whose children are now adults, recalled how going with the flow worked well and that her once “clingy” toddler blossomed into an independent adult who is practicing the same parenting philosophy with her own children.

“My second child wanted to be held and nursed and be with me a lot. I just went with it. Worked out so well. Funny…She learned how to cook at a young age because she was always with me. She’s a very confident adult and really knows who she is. And she’s so very nurturing with her child.”

Elizabeth K. now has teenagers and is able to see how meeting their needs for as long as necessary as toddlers has benefited their relationship now that they are young adults.

“They will need your nurture and care for a good long while even when you’re exhausted, even after you’ve weaned, and offering the breast is very simple compared to what they’ll need when they’re older. My 17-year-old cried in my bed with her head on my shoulder after midnight last night that her best friend is moving away in a few short weeks. It’s been 15 years since I nursed her, but I think she cried on me while I rubbed her back with a very similar need for comfort as a toddler whose world makes no sense and needs their mother.”

This time of dependence really is short, Brooke added, and emphasized the importance of taking care of you – the parent – as well as meeting your toddler’s needs.

“Remember to take breaks and allow someone else to watch your child so you don’t get caregiver burn out, but also keep in mind it is a short amount of time your kid actually wants to spend that time with you and is dependent on you.”

Of course, it can be easy to look back and see how your parenting during the early years has had positive results. But what do you do when you’re in the thick of things and need ways to help make these hands-on days feel less intense at times?

Megan J. found that babywearing was a parenting tool that met her child’s need for closeness and allowed her a little more freedom at the same time.

“At 1 year old, neither of mine was even walking. So, I did a lot of babywearing. They would play on the floor independently for less than 30 minutes. Babywearing really was my saving grace until they (became) mobile and curious around 18 months. It’s hard, I know, but now at 4 and 10 it’s sweet memories and I am so glad I toughed it out.”

Both Samantha V. and Courtney W. discovered that incorporating an activity such as reading was a way to provide closeness without necessarily always nursing or carrying their toddlers every time they asked.

Samantha V. said, “It (independence) happens before you know it. You can gently push towards it more by offering to take their hand versus holding them. Sit them beside you versus on your lap. Sit beside them while they play, but read a book instead of full on joining their playtime. Baby steps will become strides with time. They want closeness and you just have to show they can have that without smothering you.”

Courtney W. found it helpful to offer alternatives to nursing if her children were ready for that, and also noted that, if available, another adult can sometimes step in to provide that physical closeness.

“Reading while nursing helped my kids nurse less and turned that snuggle time from nursing to reading. If possible, put dad or other caregiver on physical affection and connection duty.”

And, as with most stages of parenting, Holly S. feels it is helpful to change your mindset to make it through the more challenging phases: “As soon as your thoughts change from ‘Oh no, she’s on me again!’ in frustration to ‘Yay! I get to (snuggle) little bug one more time!’ with genuine gratitude, her clings will dissipate.”

For more ideas, you can view the full conversation at: www.facebook.com/LaLecheLeagueUSA/posts/pfbid02Nndxt5KUa7atmPQhkCWK6sZbTemjSkv9e1nUwLu8heNNdSp6RG8EqdGa1urUEsCUl.

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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