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 closeness.
- 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
- What could be better than wearing a hug?