I recently received this email from a mother in Australia, and she kindly allowed me to share it with you.
I am just wondering if you have any advice on how I can get my 8 month old baby to play independently. I have been following the Dr. Sears Attachment Parenting philosophy pretty rigidly since James was born and to my dismay, he is now super clingy, whiny, wakes up every 2 hours at night to nurse, etc. I am starting to re-think my parenting philosophy and reading your blog has really opened my eyes to the fact that I need to stop carrying him around and just let him play. The problem is that every time I leave him, he cries. He literally needs to be touching me to be happy. Even if I am sitting across the room from him, he will not just sit there and play. He always crawls over to me crying because he wants me to entertain him and play with him. Should I just leave him in the room and let him cry? Will he eventually stop crying and start playing on his own? I’m just so at a loss. I feel like such a failure. I just wish my baby would be happy! Thanks for any advice.
First of all, you are most definitely not a failure. And, at 8 months of age your boy is very adaptable. Babies get used to whatever we do with them and will naturally want to continue those practices, but we can also make changes anytime. The best way to make a change is to first be certain of what you are doing (committed to changing, whatever it is). Then be very honest with your boy, and support him to transition.
It sounds like there are two issues you want to work on: better sleep and more independent play time. They actually overlap because the more restfully your baby sleeps, the more energy he will have to play. The more freedom he has to move his body during the day, the more exercise he gets, the better he will sleep. Tired babies have a harder time coping, period. (Something we can all relate to.)
I don’t know how committed you are to co-sleeping, but our presence can wake an older infant up sometimes, especially if he is used to being fed every time he wakes. If you plan to continue co-sleeping, I would try doing less when he wakes up — just stroke him gently and tell him to go back to sleep. (If you and your doctor believe he still needs a nighttime feeding, then you might feed him once, maybe the first time he wakes.)
Tell him what you will do (or not do) the day before you decide to change the pattern. “Tonight, if you wake up, we won’t be nursing. I want you to go right back to sleep.” If he cries in the night you can even acknowledge,” I know we used to nurse in the night, but I want you to get a better sleep,” or something like that… (For more about sleep please see: Sleep On This, and Back To Sleep.)
During playtime, acknowledge the changes the same way. Don’t leave him for long in the beginning. And if you leave him, even for a moment, make sure he is in a safe, securely enclosed play space.
Sit on the floor with James in his play area. Since he is crawling, you can allow him to be the one to separate, to move away from you. If he starts to cry, move close to him and say, “I hear you’re upset. I used to carry you more. Now I’m allowing you to move on your own.” You might want to stroke him soothingly as you talk to him. Acknowledge any frustration. Pay attention to him, but don’t coax or entertain him to prolong his playtime. Trust him to do this in his time, when he is ready. If he continues to express objection to being on the floor with, you might try lying down next to him. But if none of these things console him, definitely pick him up (after saying, “You still seem upset, I’m going to pick you up.”) Hold him on your lap on the floor to give him a break. If he crawls to you on the floor, let him stay on your lap as long as he likes.
The most important thing is to know you are giving him something very, very positive. And you’re just helping him adjust. He will eventually adore his playtime. Don’t feel guilty or unsure. That can make it harder for him, make him more uneasy. Every recent child development study corroborates the importance of infant play and exploration.
For more details and a short video that demonstrates an infant reaping the benefits of independent play, please see: Baby, Interrupted – 7 Ways To Build Your Child’s Focus And Attention Span and Infant Play – Great Minds At Work.
Generally, changes are much easier for our babies than we think they will be, once we commit. So go easy on yourself and take good care. Please keep me posted!
All the best, Janet
(This post is in no way meant as an “attack” on Attachment Parenting. In fact, I welcome any commentary from the Attachment Parenting perspective on Sarah’s issues!)