In exasperation I called my grandmother, who still lives in a village up country in Kenya, and asked her
what I should do. She reminded me of the women in the village - the strong women who regularly carry a load on
their heads and a child on their back. The following morning I was eager to try. My daughter had woken early
and although not ready to be awake was also not wanting to go back to sleep. I put her in a carrier on my back
and we walked the dog and went through all of our morning routine. She didn't come down until it was time to
get dressed and she didn't once cry or complain; she even ate her breakfast in the carrier.
Soon I began to use a backpack style carrier, as my grandmother had encouraged. If my daughter was restless
or grumpy, I would put her on my back and, potential crisis averted, we would both enjoy the comforts of being
close. I found that this non-verbal support could be more appropriate than trying to continually ask
"What is wrong?" to a child who could not always find the words to explain what was going on inside.
If my daughter was scared about trying something new, such as meeting cows on a farm, I found if I put her on
my back she would be much more willing to try it out and therefore quick to build up the confidence to try it
on her own.
Interestingly, although there has been substantial research and writing about baby wearing, the literature
really drops off when it comes to toddler wearing. Yet mothers who talk about it consistently say the same
thing. To quote Gretchen Otto from thebabywearer.com,
"In frustration one day I grabbed a carrier when he was at his worst, and the effect was astounding. He
became calm once again."
It became clear to me that a child's need to be physically close did not suddenly drop off as they grew
older. The number of parents I saw both in my hometown of Nairobi and when I was traveling in Europe who were
pushing empty strollers as they carried their toddler confirmed it.
There is a different kind of autonomy developed within toddlers who are regularly carried. While still
benefitting from the close contact, they often engage in conversations with other people without the help of
their caregiver. The adult (or as is common in Kenya, the older sibling or cousin) carrying them cannot see
what they are doing, which allows the child to develop independent action. On the other hand, the child can
often see things that they would otherwise not be able to see the adult doing. They can learn through
imitation how to carry out activities that are performed at adult height that they would not be able to see if
they were on the floor or in a stroller. As for their caregiver, it leaves their hands free.
The effect on a toddler's mood, however, is the most profound. Overtired children or those having a hard
time getting to sleep can literally be walked to sleep. If one is using a simple piece of cloth as a carrier
this can easily double as a sheet or blanket as the sleeping child is then transferred to the bed.
Once again my grandmother's gentle wisdom had steered me through my mothering. It all came down to this:
- Do not assume that toddlers are too old to want to be carried (a lot) - they thrive from physical
- Wearing your toddler doesn't spoil them or make them less independent - in fact they may be more
independent when they are ready to explore on their own.
- Wearing your toddler still gives her plenty of opportunity to interact independently. Even though you
can hear and feel them - you cannot see what they are doing, and they know that.
- Having a toddler on your back places much less strain on your body than front-carrying.
- What could be better than wearing a hug?