“Mama, up! Daddy, up!” Sound familiar? This is one phrase Ellie Haley of Coquitlam, BC, hears a lot. Like many parents of toddlers, she gets the frequent “carry me” request from her two-year-old daughter, Elliana. Because Haley has a back injury and can’t pick Elliana up as often as she’d like, she gives her other options instead. “I let her feel she’s in charge of the situation by asking her if she wants to do ‘big girl walking’ home from the bus stop. Or, if we have groceries to carry into the house, she counts the stairs as she walks up, and when we get inside, she gets a small treat for counting so well.” Sometimes they sing a song together, mixing it up with dancing, jumping or marching. “The whole way home, Elliana is having fun and bonding in the same way she would be if she were being held.”
Karla Castro of Port Moody, BC, takes a similar approach with her three-and-a-half-year-old son, Kai, tapping into his love of competition. “I make it into a game—we race Daddy or we hold hands and run to the car. I’d say 99 percent of the time, it works.”
That kind of engagement is a great idea, says Tanis Shanks, a social worker and trainer for a parenting program in Saskatoon called Nobody’s Perfect. “Wanting to be carried is typical toddler behaviour, she says. We call it ‘the circle of security’—they want to go out and be independent, and then come back to feel safe and calm with a parent, and then be independent again.”
There are lots of reasons toddlers want to be carried, notes Shanks. If they’re going through some kind of transition—adapting to a new baby in the family, moving from a crib to a big-kid bed or switching to different hours at daycare—they want warmth and reassurance. Sometimes, they’re worn out or getting over a bug and just need some snuggle time. And sometimes, your shorty just wants a better view!
Whatever the reason, it’s important not to shame them by telling them “only babies need to be carried,” says Shanks. It’s OK to scoop them up—you won’t create a habit or spoil them. And if you don’t pick up your little one, that’s OK, too. Instead, create a loving connection, acknowledge your child’s feelings and provide an alternative. “You can crouch down and say, ‘I understand you want me to carry you. I can’t pick you up right now, but would you be my helper and carry this bag for me?’” Shanks suggests. “You could also say, ‘This time we’re going to have a one-minute cuddle,’ because sometimes discussing why you can’t pick her up takes 10 minutes longer.”
Distraction also works. Try pretending you’re fairies, bunnies, pirates or stomping dinosaurs; or take turns telling a story.
To make toting a toddler easier, some parents use a wrap or carrier that allows you to wear a kid up to 45 pounds. (Weight ranges vary, so check the manufacturer guidelines.) Megan Mills of Ottawa has used a variety of carriers and wraps for her son, Freddie, who is two and a half, just as she did when he was a baby. “I bring one along if we’re going to the market or on a nature walk, where a stroller isn’t convenient,” she says. “Little legs get tired! Plus I like being able to carry him comfortably and having my hands free.”
Remember that, like many kid phases, the constant “Up! Up!” demands are almost always temporary. Forgive the vastly overused saying, but this really may be the time to “keep calm and carry on.”
Lifting your toddler the right way
It’s important to lift your toddler properly. First, create a stable base to avoid injury to your pelvis and back, advises Kelli Berzuk, a pelvic-floor physiotherapist in Winnipeg.
1. Bend down using your knees, and keeping your upper body upright.
2. Encourage your toddler to come right up against your chest so you’re not leaning forward.
3. Engage your pelvic-floor muscles (like you’re trying to stop peeing). Use your leg muscles to stand up.
4. Hold your child close against your chest, with her legs around your waist. If you have to hold your child on one hip, alternate so you aren’t always putting the weight on one side of your body.