Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Parenting advice: Get my child to walk

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we're writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Oh, my aching back!

This is my favorite hilarious photo to demonstrate the heaviness since it looks exactly the way it feels to carry Mikko. This was taken almost two years ago.
Dear Readers,

My two-year-old child has a problem. He cannot walk. We've investigated every potential medical cause and ruled them all out.

Two legs? Check.

Do they bend? Check.

Do they have muscles and bone inside? All seems to be intact.

And it's strange, because they work intermittently. For instance, if I try to hide a chocolate egg upstairs (oh, Cadbury, you seductress), those unpredictable legs rush my toddler right on up multiple steps to find it. If I put a permanent marker out of his reach, those same legs haul him up and over obstacles to retrieve it.

But when we're hiking upstairs to bed, or need to climb into or out of the car, or have to walk (oh, woe) fourteen feet to the mailbox:

"Can't do it, Mama. Can't walk. Hold you! Hold you!"

(He also hasn't quite figured out pronouns yet, but that's an advice column for another day...)

Now, I can hold him, sometimes. But it gets wearying when it's all the time — and most particularly when it's at the same place, every time:

To wit — when we're coming in from outside, we have to climb a flight of stairs to get to our floor. I often (usually) have something else to carry. Sometimes it's light but awkward like a pile of mail; sometimes (often) it's heavy, like a laptop bag or groceries or, you know, whatever I went out to get. Mikko looks at me with my arms full and burdened and he still, without fail, starts to plead: "Hold you, hold you, can't go up stairs, Mama. Can't do it."

See, he's heavy. He's been heavy for a long time. He's somewhere around 36 pounds or so now, and has been for almost a couple years now. (He'll be three in June and has always been a chunky monkey.) I've always had a bad back, inherited through my mother's line, and the pregnancy alone with my almost 12-pounder took a toll on me. My hips feel like they still haven't knit back together; my knees are beginning to show their age and creak when I walk; and my back is apt to give out whenever it dang well feels like it.

But: I am healthy. I am strong. I can carry him most days, if I want.

It's just — I'm tired of it. I'm annoyed by the fact that he can walk, and he knows he can walk, and he knows I don't want to carry him up the stairs all the time anymore, and yet he persists in asking — first with a sly grin and then — oh, if I refuse — the screaming! The everlasting screaming! I don't know what the neighbors in our building must think of us, because probably all they ever hear from us is a wailing kid being trotted down the hallway.

Because here's the thing. If I even hesitate, the screaming can start. If I give in and do carry him, that's not even a guarantee that the screaming will stop. And it is loud. This kid can pitch a fit, yo.

What do I do?

This is a more recent photo. He's gotten taller since then — but not lighter!
If I don't carry him, there's the screaming. And if I half-heartedly carry him, like tucked under one arm — hoo, boy, he hates that. Very, very infrequently I can cajole him to walk up the stairs happily on his own by making a game of it: Go up like a snake, I'll say, or a sheep, or let's count the steps as we go, etc. But it is so very rare that that works. Mostly he'll just tell me no, and we're back to square one.

I've even offered to carry all the stuff up first, then come back to get him, hoping he'll get bored and follow anyway. But you know? I just hate doing that. I'm not overly fond of stairs myself, and getting to make two trips carrying two heavy loads every time? Bleh.

So what are my options here? And what are the reasons behind this? Is he needing to reconnect? Does he miss the constant babywearing? Will he outgrow this, and how soon? (I remember being 5-7 or so and still wanting my dad to hold me, but understanding that I was too heavy for it to happen often.) Will I miss it when it's gone? Is it unreasonable to request a 2.75-year-old to walk up stairs by himself when his mother's got her arms full (or even if she doesn't)? Is there a way to handle this that is respectful of him (like, say, not make fun of him in a blog post...) and that also honors my needs not to be overly physically burdened?

I know what conventional parenting would say (i.e., my mom). Don't give in; don't listen to him whine; he's not the boss of me; you're encouraging him to be lazy; etc. But do I need to just accept that he needs this now, for whatever reason, and really go for it? Just carry him all the dang time? Even for the brief walk from the car to the door, get the ERGO out each time for the 2-minute trek and strap him in so I can carry everything without fuss again?

Or is there a brilliant way to reason with a 2-year-old...?

Backbroken in Hoboken (er...Seattle)

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

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(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)


Unknown said...

Probably a stupid idea, but have you tried having him help out carrying things up?
Couldn't help you otherwise, we rarely encounter stairs. Do understand the hurting hips, I have a sciatic that doesn' go away ever since I have been pregnant, and I think my hip isn't in the right place any more...

Anonymous said...

Hmm, so did you LO learn to crawl and walk up those stairs.

We lived in a block of units whilst my Noodle was learning to walk. He had to climb up 43 steps to get to our door. I wanted to carry him because it was quicker and easier for me but he insisted on walking or crawling.

Is there a railing Mikko can hold onto? He certainly is a gorgeous tubby bub.

I agree with mamapoekie, getting him to carry something up may be beneficial. You said you've had medical investigations etc, could it be worth a trip to a paediatric physio to get an idea of some activities that could get Mikko interested in walking more, particularly upstairs.

Good luck. I hope you can work something out. It may just be that its to exerting for Mikko to get up those stairs. Maybe you can reward him or have a game for getting up 3 stairs, then the next time another 3, then another 3 etc etc. I would definitely keeep the ergo nearby for when its not going to happen.

I hope you get some more helpful advice.

Joni Rae said...

Ooof. I love hearing "carry me momma!" But I hate when it happens when my arms are full!

It sucks, but I try to look at it this way- someday they'll not WANT to be picked up anymore. And that day will be sad.


Sarah @ OneStarryNight said...

When DS1 was that age, I would give him a task. "Help momma carry the bag!" He would feel like a "big boy" and typically not throw a fit about walking on stairs or longer distances.

Dionna @Code Name: Mama said...

My first thought was to ask him to wait - we have steep stairs that go down to the basement, and Kieran now knows that he has to let me take the clothes down first, then I come back for him. (As we're walking back he says, "I wait!") But I don't have the added problem of a bad back. Is it just that he wants to be carried like a baby? Could you put him up in the Ergo (or something similar) for a little bit every day and see if that fulfills the need? Have you explained to him that it hurts mama to carry him up the stairs, but that you are happy to carry him once you are inside? I'll keep thinking!

Rambling Rachel said...

When I was pregnant, I got to the point where I couldn't carry my son (also 2+ years). I also knew there was going to be a day when I'd have a baby and associated baggage in my arms.

I did a few things to change the habit of carrying him.

I explained that I couldn't carry him, but could hold his hand.

I blamed it on me -- oh, my back hurts! I can't carry you. I hoped he wouldn't internalize it.

There was crying. Sometimes he wailed during the 20-paces journey between the car and home. I made sure I had something in one arm and offered my hand. sometimes it worked. I figured that crying with my hand in his was like crying-in-arms that sometimes happens with infants.

It took time, patience, and growing independence for him to learn something new.

Of course, he still wants to be carried occasionally. This morning, I got him out of bed and carried him down the steps. I carry him on my back like a dinosaur mama. :) Just don't grab my neck, kid.

Laura said...

My three year old often asks to be carried up the stairs, but not every time. But I have a younger one too. Sometimes I make her wait, sometimes I see if I can get the younger one to crawl up stairs. She might cry a bit, but its not a huge scene.

You could get a backpack to carry the other items and carry him up every time without him asking. He might chafe at that and then assert his right to do it himself? Good luck.

Anonymous said...

My first inclination is to ask if he can help carry something. If he's not there yet, he will very soon be at the age when he wants to help with everything in order to feel like a big boy. So if it doesn't work now and the prob isn't solved in a few months, I'd try that again.

Also, way to acknowledge what his need might be- reconnection. I like Dionna's suggestion of carrying him in the Ergo for a little while each day. Maybe you could "reward" him with a few minutes of being held or sitting in your lap once upstairs if he walks part of the way, and eventually all the way.

P.S. Give yourself a bit of a break and go see a chiro!!

Anonymous said...

I'm also going to suggest letting him carry something up the stairs so he can "be a big boy" and gain a sense of importance.

Watch me eat those words when my little one becomes a toddler, LOL.

Cave Mother said...

I wonder if the suggestion to give him a job will work? I wouldn't know, my LO's still littler than yours. But I don't envy you having to carry a 36 pounder! Cave Baby's getting a lot better at walking around and not askng to be picked up - until she gets a new tooth that is! It must be very tiring for you.

Emmanuelle said...

Your son reminds me of my brother at the same age: mama's boy. Then it passed... he wouldn't need mama as much. Who knows what's in their head. I would suggest to invest in a pouch to carry him along on your back! lol!

seekingmother said...

Being someone who has major back issues, I can only imagine the repeated distress to your already stressed back carrying a toddler up and down the stairs. I am only up to a 20 pound boy and I am already annoyed when people laugh and tell me how great that I'm getting so much exercise. Anyway, I love the idea of having a discussion about becoming more of a team when the two of you are out into the world and that this philosophy could be directly applied when you come home. Now it's time to bring all of our purchases, belongings, etc. into our house. Could you get him a small sack to wear or carry and give him an item or two when you return from your excursions? Perhaps that way he will know that he is value as a helper and that you welcome his help. You will have to remind him of this someday and get some additional help from him when he is a teenager. "Mom's back is still sore from carrying you up and down the stairs as a baby, maybe you can carry in the groceries." Wishing you luck and a nice warm bath with salts...

Anonymous said...

My 2nd pregnancy ended babywearing for me. I just reached a point where I couldn't anymore. I found it too difficult, plus I knew that soon enough I would be carrying a baby around, and I didn't want to literally drop my daughter in order to do that, I wanted a time cushion to make it easier. My daughter was sad when I ended babywearing, but we worked through it together.

There's a BIG difference between saying no and detaching, and setting reasonable limits and working through them together. Yes, there might be sadness, but you're there with him, not abandoning him. It's OK if you don't want to be his legs anymore, just as it's OK if you do. Balancing your needs is not insensitive, and it's not going to destroy your bond if you are present with your child as you do it. But you don't have to, either.

Good luck, Mama!

Lauren Wayne said...

Sigh. I just wrote a long response and it got eaten by the internet monster. I will try to reconstruct...

'You will have to remind him of this someday and get some additional help from him when he is a teenager. "Mom's back is still sore from carrying you up and down the stairs as a baby, maybe you can carry in the groceries."'

Ha ha, seekingmother! I love it.

Thank you for all the good suggestions and your thoughtful responses.

I will just add some more thoughts of my own so I can continue to get feedback.

* I have asked him to carry things for me, or given him other tasks, but so far it hasn't inspired him. For instance, he loves to use my keys to unlock the door, so I try to distract him with that, but he just wants to carry the keys while I carry him. I think it's a sound idea even though it's not working yet, so I'll keep trying. Maybe someday he'll feel proud about helping me out in that way and it will carry him up the stairs on his own. Often I have only heavy things to carry, and if I give him light things, he carries them to the stairs, then hands them back to me and then lifts his arms to be carried as well! So that backfires, because now I have all my hands full. :) But I really like the idea of getting him a little backpack, because then his hands would be free.

* Because the other thing I was thinking about is how clumsy he is. His parents are, too, so I mean it as fact rather than insult. The stairs are rather steep, and I don't feel (and neither does he) comfortable with him going up without at least one hand free to hold the railing, preferably two free for balance. Sometimes he stands to go up stairs, and sometimes he crawls, but either way, he does better with his hands free. But a backpack would let him carry things still with free hands.

* Hey, what if I encouraged him to carry his baby up the stairs? Give him a taste of his own medicine, in a cute and friendly way.

* I also love the idea of getting my own backpack. That makes so much sense and would be a lot easier than buckling on the Ergo for such a short trek.

* As far as exercising patience, letting him work through the disappointment, etc. — what do you do when you have a screaming child sitting at the bottom of the stairs and refusing to move? Do you sit there with him? Continue up the stairs and let him follow at will? I'm never sure how to respond to the screaming. We're the only ones in our building with a young child, so I'm always hyper-aware of how much noise we're making, which doesn't help. But I don't want fear of annoying my neighbors to keep me from parenting respectfully.

* I should see a chiro, shouldn't I? :)

Thank you all for your advice! I will keep on keeping on. I think I'll definitely try some more snuggling/carrying time as I'm able and try not to let this become a battle.

Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries said...

I wish I had some advice! He is so so cute though!

I'm thinking this is a "This too will pass" situation?

Alexandra said...

now that I have two kiddos my two year old has to walk up the stairs. lol

we make a game out of it. he is a bear cub and I am momma bear. So he has to walk up the stairs like a bear and go into our cave. he finds this absolutly hilerious. Anytime I can't get him to do something I start to pretend we are something else and then he is on board!

hope it gets better soon! let us know if anything works!

Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes said...

I have a very heavy 2 yr old - Dylan for sure is over 30 lbs. My mom has a bad back and when my son asks her to carry him she says: I can't, I have a sore back. She has repeated this over and over and over again for the past few months and in the last little while it has finally sunk in. Dylan now says to her: You can't pick me up, you have a sore back! And now he walks, or climbs into his highchair himself, etc when he is with her.

If you keep on repeating that you have a sore back, perhaps your son will begin to understand, especially if he understands the concept of sore. Dylan understands that a boo boo is sore, that it hurts. Perhaps if you compare your back to a sore boo boo he might begin to understand?

Good luck!

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

We're going through the same thing...and she is 3. Guess I need to read through all of the comments myself! :)

Dress Ups said...

Ohh man! I can completely understand what you are saying. My youngest who has now just turned 4 (SOB!)was like this from birth! he loves to be held, he loves to snuggle, he loves to play with you, he loves to sleep with you and sit on you and come and chat while you go to the loo ... basically he loves company ..all the time!!

It has been one of those situations where he to could create and earthquake with his wails and whine until glass shattered ... but while he was happy ... you so couldn't wish for a better child!
It is exhausting though.
having said that ... as I said he has recently turned four and while I sit here he is happily playing with his toys in a very elaborate imaginary game and is happy to walk and play ... on his own!
Hang in there is all I can say ... they do seem to grow out of it.
Liza xo

Erinrose said...

What a gorgeous boy you have. I too have a back problem, started in my early 20s and exploded during my pregnancies. I cannot, and seldom have, carried my two children. They rarely asked to be carried by me, cause I've rarely do it. When I do carry them, (and its usually up the stairs too!), I use a hippychick. I highly recommend it! You got some great advice here, I'd just add that soon, by gently explaining, over and over and over that your back hurts and you need his help by him walking that he may (hopefully!) eventually walk up on his own and not ask. When my 2 year old son sometimes asks to be carried, I just have to be gentle, but firm, and he eventually walks on his own. Best of luck!

Geeks in Rome said...

I think you know already you can't carry him all the time so the problem here is more that to do with a screaming child in a building or city full of people.

Because when he gets older and no longer screaming about wanting to be carried, it will be about something else (wanting a toy...).

Like any temper tantrum I would spell out the situation ("I can't carry you right now because my hands are full/my back hurts. You're going to have to walk.")
If there is more wailing then you can add something like "if you are tired then we can take just one step at a time and rest or I can hold yr hand."

If the screaming escalates cuz he can't get his way, then (if he is too young like Mik) I say something like I know you don't like this idea, but that's the way it is. When your ready let me know. and then I sit and read a book or enjoy the scenery.

If he is older and the place is safe you can go ahead and walk up the stairs or head into the apt. keeping him in sight.

I only had to do this once on the street when my son threw a fit because I couldn't carry him. He sat in the middle of the gross sidewalk, and I sat on a curb reading. People walked by thinking I was out of my mind. But after 10 minutes he got it, calmed down and walked with me back home.

you just have to stick to your guns, breathe really deeply and try to blot it out. I also try to think about how this will benefit him in the long run by showing him being whiny and manipulative doesn't pay. Unfortunately Italians succumb in a heartbeat to crying kids so it's hard to get that message across to him sometimes.

Darcel said...

My 5yr old will do this when we're all out together. She knows that Daddy will carry her from time to time, but mommy can't.
Like you said, he still wants to connect. Also like other said, maybe if you keep giving him something to carry along with you, he'll eventually want to walk more.
My almost 3yr old goes through this phase several times a month.
So....I said all of that to say, I don't have much advice to offer you.

Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

sometimes we will play at being various animals crawling up the stairs - hedgehogs, giraffes, etc. This is usually inside while on the way to bed though.

It is so tough to want your child to do something they don't want to do (like get dressed! walking up the stairs!) These things seem so easy for us but they're hard for little people who have just learned to walk or manipulate clothes. I think the best we can do is state what we want and help where possible by making it fun with games & songs, and if that's not working back off and try again another day. Development happens, but it does take time.

Jamie said...

I really liked Amber's advice. If it was just a case of not wanting to carry him then sure, I would hesitate to put my foot down. But- you've got a bad back to think about. I'm not saying be a hardass about it, but it's ok to start laying down some rules about it. Like maybe Mama only carries you on weekends?

Olivia said...

My suggestion is a backpack for yourself, too. Or maybe a grocery cart to keep at least one arm free for him.

I recently used a backpack for a day trip with my daughter and it was a major light bulb moment for me. And, well, my mother was right ;) A backpack is so handy with a small child.

Lisa C said...

You know, I do wish I had joined the carnival this time. I never ask for parenting advice, except on the CC forum or among close friends that I trust. But I realized I could have done this one. Oh, well.

I skipped the comments, so forgive me if I am repeating someone. I've heard someone say they just gave their child EXTRA attention, to the point of almost smothering them with it, and then the child was able to be more independent after that. So maybe if you just grin and bear it for a while and pick him up way more than usual, then he will get his fill. Lots of toddlers his age are wanting to do things "by myself" but it has to be their idea, I think.

Oh, and with Michael, I carry him a lot, still (I know he's much younger than Mikko), but I am always keeping in the back of my mind that he needs to be held, so I might as well do it any time that is convenient to do so, in hopes that when it's inconvenient he'll be okay with walking.

Anyway, I do NOT blame you for not wanting to carry him all the time! Yikes, he's a heavy kid.

Lisa C said...

Okay, I glanced through some of the comments, and read your question: what do you do when you have a screaming child sitting at the bottom of the stairs and refusing to move? Do you sit there with him? Continue up the stairs and let him follow at will?

If it were my child, I would tell him to wait there and that I would be right back. I would carry up my load, drop it off and go back and get him. So what if the neighbors hear him crying?

And yes, go see a chiropractor! You poor thing. Oh, make sure you are using the correct posture for lifting and carrying, too. I would get him in the ergo from time to time, too, to get some carrying time in without it being too much of a strain. Good luck!

Sybil Runs Things said...

I haven't read all of the comments, but this what our positive parenting coach said to do: pretend like you don't know how. And wait. And wait. And wait while he screams and gets upset and then finally decides to do it. And then the next time, do it all again. The theory is that he will (hopefully quickly) figure it out. I have no doubt you are snuggling and connecting A LOT but if that is what he needs, then find another time to connect with him.

If we are doing things for our kids that they can do for themselves, and that we really don't want to be doing for them, we're actually not giving them the chance to grow and learn and figure it out for themselves. So think of it that way-- you're taking away his ability to handle it.

Again, this is second hand info from my seminar, but I think it sounds pretty right-on. I still do things for my girls that they can do for themselves (much to the instuctors chagrine) but 90% of the time they do it on their own. And I do it because I want to, because it makes me happy to occasionally carry in the house, or put on the shoes, etc etc when I know they can do it themselves.

Good Luck!

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