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The Static Cling Toddler

The Static Cling Toddler

By Amalah

Hi there!

Been running myself crazy and would love some third-party insight. I really love your column so figured you are my best shot 🙂

So, I have a 2.5 year old girl who despite all my non-attachment parenting ways (not judging those ways, just saying not what I’m doing) is VERY attached! Specifically the issue is that she always wants me (or my hubs if he’s there) to carry her. She can walk perfectly fine, but generally only wants to walk when I don’t want her to (e.g. next to a road, etc). If I don’t carry her she will whiiiiiine, which I ignore, and then she will escalate into full-blown screaming hysterics and generally end up throwing up because she has made herself so hysterically upset. I generally still don’t pick her up even in these circumstances, but will sit and comfort her once we are wherever we were headed (preschool/home). Even once she is calm though she will hardly let me go, insisting on me carrying her around the house while I make her lunch or sitting on me while eating the lunch. If/when I stay firm on “no” to these she regresses back into the screaming.

Do you think she is just being lazy and likes being toted around or is she seeking comfort and I’m denying it, which is traumatizing her in some way?

I really thought if it was a lazy issue that I’d stuck to my guns for long enough (we are talking months and months) for her to get it, so that’s why I’m afraid it really is her needing comfort/compassion and she feels denied.

My hubs btw caves every time and carries her because he can’t handle the whining/crying.

Also, just to be clear. I always stay calm and don’t talk too much, just use clear, simple communication: “You can walk, hold Mama’s hand.” I don’t discipline her for this behavior because I’m just not sure where it stems from, but I really hate it and would love for it to stop. Just not sure how to achieve that.

Any thoughts/feedback/suggestions? In lieu of those, I’m selling a toddler – cheap! 😉

Thanks so much!

So this is an Issue that Other People have Surprisingly Strong Opinions About, as I learned the semi-hard way, back when my oldest child was three years old. He also insisted on being carried most of the time, and I mentioned this — and the fact that I generally gave in to his demands and carried him — in a blog post. Some readers seemed to think this was unacceptable for…I don’t really remember why. Because I was babying him? Not encouraging proper independence? Ignoring some possible developmental problem (even though our entire lives at that time revolved around developmental problems we were most definitely NOT ignoring)?

I don’t really remember because I was like, sorry, this is just…not that big of a deal to me. I will carry him to the damn car or down the steps if it helps us get where we need to go, on time and with minimal drama.

So after reading your letter, I have to ask: Why is this such a big deal? What’s so important about this particular power struggle? And is continuing to fight it (after months and months) really making life any easier/better?

When my toddlers asked to be carried, I usually carried them, unless there was some very true and honest reason why I couldn’t. (Because I’m carrying groceries, because I need to put you down to unlock the door, etc.) I didn’t have any back problems or other physical issues, so it typically wasn’t too uncomfortable/taxing. Because I did carry them in times when they wanted/needed it (maybe they were feeling anxious about our destination or an upcoming separation, maybe their little toddler legs were just tired of trying keep up after a long day, etc.), the amount of whining I got when I DID refuse for a legitimate reason was usually not too terrible. Definitely not screaming or hysterics, even from my Very Most Clingiest/Separation Anxiety-est Kid.

My guess is that your daughter IS an inherently clingy/needy kid, who is asking to be held for comfort and security rather than laziness. (I mean, unless you’re concerned about her energy and physical activity levels in general, but if it’s isolated to just this particular issue, I’m going with this being primarily emotional.) Screaming to the point of throwing up is…yikes, and if holding a firm line (for months and months) with no sign of improvement, I just gotta suggest you re-think your staunch no-carrying opposition here.

If you pick her up when 1) she asks and 2) you physically can, you remove any reason for her to whine or freak out. And you get from Point A to Point B easier, probably faster, and definitely with less stress for BOTH of you. That’s a damn win, in my book, rather than continuing to fight with her over this every. Time. You. Go. Anywhere.

And after consistently getting from Point A to Point B with less stress, she might start relaxing a little bit and drop HER end of this power struggle (because make no mistake, she KNOWS you’re going to say no before she asks and is primed to pitch a fit every time walking is expected). She’ll also probably drop the post-hysterics cling-fest at home when she grows more comfortable that she won’t be consistently denied that closeness/security when you’re out and about.

If this all sounds kinda Attachment Parent-y to you, well, there is definitely some attachment theory running through this problem/solution combo. And look, I hate set parenting labels and die-hard tedious PHILOSOPHIES as much as the next Good Enough Parent. I solemnly swear there is no one right way to do things, but sometimes our kids just need us to put our preferences (and prejudices) aside and do what’s right for them. Sometimes that means doing the sleep training you always swore you’d never even consider, or supplementing with formula or breastfeeding longer than you planned. Sometimes it means picking them up and carrying them, even though they are perfectly capable of walking.

She’s not going to forget how to walk or become physically/developmentally stunted, I swear. (Hell, I was still strapping my kids into the Ergo carrier on my back when they were your daughter’s age, whenever we were doing something super-walking-intensive and I didn’t feel like using the stroller.) You can continue to narrate safe street/crossing rules while you hold her and lead by example. (“We need to wait for the walk signal, we need to stay on the sidewalk, we never run in parking lots, etc.”)

And she WILL outgrow this. Probably sooner than later, once you stop fighting her tooth and nail about it and making it a Thing, I’d bet. All of my children who are too heavy for me to carry now walk from Point A to Point B completely on their own without any whining or drama of any kind, I swear.

(And note that “all of my children who are too heavy for me to carry” does not yet include my 4 year old. He still asks to be carried sometimes, either because he’s tired or just feeling a little shy/nervous/needy. And so…sometimes we still carry him. Some day he really will be too big for me to pick up and I’m selfishly happy that day isn’t here yet.)

Published October 7, 2015. Last updated August 19, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • MR

    October 7, 2015 at 10:44 am

    I have to agree, this isn’t a laziness issue. This stage is precisely what carriers were created for. Do you have an Ergo, or something similar? If not, invest in one! Put her on your back in the carrier and go about your business. She will not want to do this forever. This IS just a stage. At some point, she will be running off to class for her first day of school without even turning back. But, in the meantime, she needs that closeness, and that’s ok.

  • Michele

    October 7, 2015 at 10:51 am

    +1 MR. I still use a ring sling and a toddler Tula all the time with my 3-year-old. Makes things easier for both of us.

  • IrishCream

    October 7, 2015 at 10:58 am

    I feel your pain, OP. One of my kids went through a similar phase. You can be all about closeness and affection and have the most securely attached kids, and still want to walk ten feet without trucking a 25-lb-weight along with you! Not unreasonable.

    I am with Amy on this one, from a “pick your battles” standpoint. Given that this is a habit she will definitely, literally outgrow, it’s not like you have to hold the line to ensure you won’t have bigger problems down the road. If you change course on this, but still maintain your normal ground rules for other behavior stuff, I bet she won’t suddenly become a spoiled wild child, and you’ll have one less source of stress. My clingy kid is 3.5 now and is happy to walk on her own 95% of the time.

  • Holly W.

    October 7, 2015 at 11:39 am

    OP, I feel for you. I have two littles, ages 4 and 2, and I SO ENCOURAGE the independence. Basically, around 18 months when they’ve walked pretty safely without assistance, they walk everywhere. No more carries, and even seldom use of a stroller. If its a long day of walking or hiking, I’ll get my Ergo, but at 30+ pounds, dang my two-year-old is heavy. So I have the same leaning – no, kid, you can walk. It’s 18 steps. You can even run if you want! Or skip! or hold my hand. 

    But. But. but. On the other hand, My kids might make a whiny face for a second, and then go ahead and walk. Sometimes I might pick them up when they ask. It’s not a fight or a power struggle. Since it seems like with your little…I agree with Amy. A pain, and stick with a stroller or carrier for longer distances and days, but in general, carrying might just be best for now. 

  • Ida

    October 7, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Pick her up. Carry her. Be kind to her (even if you don’t feel like it). This too will pass eventually.

  • leslie

    October 7, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    Yup, kids are different and our parenting style might influence it, but they are still different. We did a little more attachment type of stuff (not full on, but what worked for us). The 3 yr old goes through phases. She’s fairly secure and independent, if shy, and sometimes, just really must be picked up right now. The 11 month old is still a baby, and while we’ve been pretty similar with her in our style, she’s even more independent and not a shy bone in her body. But she’s still young, so we’ll see. I just go with what they want as long as it’s realistic. Sometimes I just want a hug and wish someone would carry me, too! Plus, I have enough battles with my threenager that this is one I’m willing to let go… I turn picking her up into mini cuddles because when she’s actually a teenager, I am not likely to get them like I do now. 

  • Kya

    October 7, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Our solution that worked pretty well was that we would cheerfully agree to carry our boy — but not in his preferred style.  We’d hoist him up with no butt support or put him under an arm football-style.  It didn’t hurt him, but it was definitely not comfortable for him over distance, and he’d ask to walk pretty quickly.  At which point we’re like, “Are you sure?  Well, okay, I guess we’ll let you walk.”  Eventually, we stopped that, too, but I think it got us through that transition period where he was too big  to carry far, but emotionally at a point where he would have fought us hard on it.  When we quit, there were some minor power struggles, but nothing big.  

  • Solmaz

    October 7, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Having had the same issue, I knew for my toddler, it was a comfort thing. He was in daycare all day so when we went home he wanted me/my husband to hold him while cooking. It was really hard until we began putting him in a hiking backpack while cooking. He was happy and I began loosing weight.

  • Mara

    October 7, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Maybe part of the reason your “stand firm” stance on the problem isn’t working is because your husband “caves every time”? Everyone’s experience is obviously different, but whenever we’ve needed to solve an issue with one of our children, it’s really only successful if both my husband and I are on the same page. Consistency has been key!

  • Sarah

    October 7, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    I had physical issues carrying my child who was similarly clingy. Instead of carrying is get down and we’d do extended cuddles, or I’d say “I can’t carry you but let’s walk to that bench and you can climb into mommys lap”. Usually giving her some intensive contact allowed her the comfort she really needed and then we could continue on with her walking.

  • LT

    October 7, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    What do people recommend where there actually are physical issues? My little boy is just over two, incredibly tall for two, and I’m halfway through pregnancy and my pelvis has decided to just fall apart on me. (Add to this the codeine which is the only thing they let me take drives me to weepy fits about BEING AN AWFUL MOTHER and we’re having a great pregnancy, thanks, glad you asked! 😉 )

    I take a pushchair out with us, but he haaaates the pushchair. He wants *carry*, mummy, and mummy just.. can’t. And picking him up midtantrum to go in the pushchair is no picnic either. We’re getting a bit hermity because trips that don’t involve husband and/or car are too much. Help?

    • MR

      October 8, 2015 at 11:29 am

      I couldn’t carry my oldest while I was pregnant with her sister either. I just told her I couldn’t because it hurt mommy. If we were at home, I’d sit down and let her sit next to me to cuddle, or if we were out walking, I’d tell her she could either walk or get in the stroller, and that she got to pick. If she still said she wanted me to carry her, it is the same as any other time they are trying to pick an option that you didn’t give them. You just calmly say, “I’m sorry, that’s not one of the options. Walk or stroller?” If they still don’t pick, “If you don’t pick, I’m going to pick. Walk or stroller?” And then if they don’t pick, you pick.

  • k

    October 7, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    I agree with Amalah – unless you physically can’t carry your kiddo anymore, I think being a little flexible on this might make your life easier. I would never characterize our son ( 3 1/2 now) as clingy – he’s quite independent most of the time…and yet, he has always preferred to be carried by me. Not by dad, but by me, which, yikes! Heavy! BUT – most of the time I do carry him, because it is a comfort thing more than anything else. I started thinking about no more carrying, but ultimately he seemed most interested in being carried when it was windy (he isn’t a fan), when he was nervous or unsure about our upcoming activity or when he had learned a lot during that day (tired from preschool). I just carry him. And slowly but surely, his desire has diminished a little bit. And if my hands are full or something else, I just don’t carry him and explain why I can’t, and it’s no big deal because he knows that next time I will pick him up. I definitely think this battle isn’t one to agonize over – enjoy the cuddles, eventually she really will be too big to carry and that will end that. But maybe giving her this extra time to be “babied” as some put it, will help ease that transition.

  • S

    October 7, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    I agree with Amalah, too. Nice way of putting it about how our philosophies really take a backseat to their needs. I think this is most obvious to parents of kids with special needs when we have to make all sorts of changes to the way we’d planned to parent. But even the regular kids are their own people!

  • Us too

    October 8, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    We definitely go through cycles with our 2.5 year old like that too. And like other commenters, it’s if she has had a long week at daycare, teething or just needing some more contact.

    What I definitely insist on is her asking politely with a “please” attached. I’m not going to pick her up if she whines. But if she asks politely then I will.

  • Marly

    October 8, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    I think sometimes we want our kids to be independent too fast. Think about how many extra cuddles and kisses you get while carrying her. 

  • CeeBee

    October 9, 2015 at 3:04 am

    My two are 14 months apart, so this became a real struggle with my oldest well after he’d turned 2. I was so concerned for so long that not picking him up was saying to him I didn’t love him. But then when I started offering to sit on the floor with him and snuggle/play/read, at the very instant he wanted to be picked up so I could give him attention without the hauling around, but he never wanted it. He wanted to be hoisted around the house all day long. So pick-ups stopped, full-stop. We always offered attention at the times of his request.

    My youngest is now two and a few months ago I slipped a disc in my back and I had to start declining to pick her up because it was exactly the opposite of helping to heal my back. But it was good because she doesn’t want to be hauled around 24/7 and asks for “mommy time” when she wants nurturing and snuggles.

    I think your husband needs to stop this if you decide no pick-ups are right for you. And it really has to be all out including no picking them up so they can grab something out of reach, etc. I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all to not want to taxi your almost preschooler around because they want to be chauffeured.

    • Jodie

      October 9, 2015 at 10:48 am

      I really love this approach.  In particular that you’re teaching your kids the words to ask for what they really want?  Convenience of not using my legs?  Let’s admit that.  Need some extra love and attention?  Ask for that!  

      When I had my youngest daughter this approach worked really well for my middle daughter.  She learned that a request for mama or dadda time was pretty sacred and if were able (read, not dealing with bodily fluids) we’d give it to her.

  • Elzie

    October 10, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    What about doing the “sit and comfort” part at the beginning of the interaction instead of at the end? Sit with her when coming into the preschool room and ask her about the day instead of having the joyous run to mom/dad’s arm and being picked up. Sit with her inside in the kitchen and talk about what you will be cooking for dinner and ask her what she wants to do while you cook.Or before heading out to run an errand, tell her the plan of the outing and ask her if she would like to be carried or walk…she might surprise you and say walk. What also worked for my son is to really lay on the praise at home and include any time she walks, but any other thing she does independently, let her know how happy that made you and how helpful it was, etc. so she seeks out time with you based on behaviors you want vs behaviors you do not.

  • Maree

    October 12, 2015 at 12:44 am

    Personally I just carry them but have you got any tricks to encourage walking?  I have a couple that could help… We play red light, green light with toddler saying the words or its variation of little steps, big steps or fast steps,slow steps (obviously you manipulate this your way).  We also play postman and post imaginary letters into the trees as we walk (quick, you get that tree up ahead) keep them moving in the right direction.  I find kids will cooperate if it is fun – pick battles I reckon and this stuff doesn’t cost me anything and makes memories.

    I did wonder if you have over compensated on the ‘not ap’ thing.  Not doing ap doesn’t mean never carrying or cuddling, you can have a healthy middle ground. Toddlers need lots of affection and they aren’t that verbal so it is generally physical. Um also this behaviour doesn’t sound ‘attached’to me – more a sign of real distress.

    I wouldn’t stop husband either in the name of consistency – why take away his nice experience (dad piggy back rides are awesome)? I NEVER wrestle with my kids but their dad does all the time, they don’t throw tantrums over it.

    Best of luck – this does sound exhausting for both of you.