Could I ask your advice again? So Audrey is great (GREAT!) at independent play. She can spend quite a long time happily playing with her basic simple toys and babbling to herself. Except, in the mornings, when I am trying to get breakfast ready, lunches ready, dishes done, and stuff ready to get out the door, she is really clingy. I don’t understand. If I am sitting still in the afternoon hanging out with her, she is happy to go off and play on her own. But if I am not able to sit down with her, that’s when she is attached to my leg. The solution is probably just to do more stuff at night so I have less to do in the morning and more time for her, but I need time to relax and the evening is all I have. Thoughts? I know you will be able to shed some common sense on my morning routine nightmare! Thanks in advance!
Yes, you can always ask my advice. Not only am I flattered, I’m thankful for a clue as to what I should be writing about.
But before I reply (if you’ll please excuse me), I’m going to find my amateur psychoanalyst hat…………….. Okay, hat’s on.
Hmmm! Now let me get this straight: your daughter enjoys playing independently, has a marvelous time, does not need you at all when you are sitting still and relaxed, hanging out, completely available to her. And yet, when you are busy in the morning with chores and activities her personality shifts dramatically. She becomes a leg-hugger — dependent, clingy, needy, helpless, desperate for your attention. Interesting!
This could mean one of three things:
a. Your daughter is not a morning person.
b. Acute Kitchen Phobia. She’s unable to contain her fears when her dear, kind, vulnerable mother engages with knives, stoves, microwave radiation, garbage disposals, potato mashers, and the terrifying “snap” of Tupperware containers and zip-lock sandwich bags.
c. She’s a toddler…doing her job.
Toddlers test. Testing limits is what they are supposed to do and is a healthy and important step for them as they build independence. Testing tries our patience, but if we handle it calmly, it can provide valuable learning experiences for our child, give her the sense of security she needs, and bring us closer.
The situation you describe often sends parents lunging towards the nearest TV remote, and understandably so. Keep holding off if you can, because she will pass through this phase soon. TV or videos in the morning would get Audrey out of your hair (and off your legs), but it could begin a habit for both of you that will undermine her great ability to play autonomously (besides encouraging her to zone out in the beginning of the day when she could be putting her energy to more productive, “brain active” use).
Here are some thoughts for giving Audrey clear boundaries in the morning and for dealing with toddler testing in general.
Toddlers enjoy independent play when we balance it with periods of our undivided attention. Maybe you are already doing this, but I encourage you to sit with Audrey in the morning while she has her breakfast. Try not to be distracted by other things during those few minutes. Make that time as intimate as possible. Tell her that when she is finished with breakfast, you will do your work in the kitchen and she will have…
It’s easier for toddlers to relinquish testing when they feel they have a little control. Giving Audrey choices lets her be the one to decide how to behave helpfully. One example could be asking her to choose to either play in her safe play area or sit in a special chair (or pillow on the floor) and watch you. Another choice might be playing with playdough (the special homemade kind that you’ve set aside for her to use only in the mornings…see recipe below), or her set of farm animals (or another toy you might designate “mornings only”).
Project confidence, acknowledge feelings, and hold firm.
If she doesn’t accept these choices gracefully, or if she plays for a short time and then returns to you, try not to get upset or give her behavior much attention. Just calmly, comfortably, matter-of-factly tell her that you know she wants you, but you are going to be busy for 15 more minutes (or whatever), and you are looking forward to sitting with her as soon as you’re done. If she continues, even if she grabs your legs, hold tight, stay calm, try not to let it bother you, and ask her again to please sit down or go and play in a kind, but authoritative way. No pleading. If she seems upset, acknowledge it, “You’re really having a hard time letting me do my work today.”
If you can be confident and unemotional during all of this, she will probably lose interest in testing. It’s most important to project assurance. She’s not falling apart (although if she has a gift for drama she may seem to be). She’s not a ‘poor baby’. She’s a strong girl who needs boundaries like all children do. If you melt and give in, get annoyed or angry, she may continue to be distracted by her need to test instead of feeling free to play.
Now, let me frame this by saying that, in my book, you are doing a wonderful job. (And Audrey sounds like a terrific girl.) And also, I certainly don’t have all the answers. These are just some ideas, and they may or may not work for you. I would love for you to give me an update. I’d also love to hear suggestions from anyone reading.
All the best, Janet
Playdough recipe (it’s edible…just in case) from Don’t Move The Muffin Tins (A Hands Off Guide To Art For The Young Child) by one of my favorite speakers and educators Bev Bos:
What You’ll Need: A saucepan; two cups flour; one cup salt; one teaspoon cream of tartar; two tablespoons oil; one teaspoon food coloring; two cups water.
How To Proceed: Mix ingredients in saucepan and stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until dough leaves sides of pan. Remove from pan and knead for a few minutes.
Comments: This is a very smooth, pliable clay. We store our clay in a tightly closed plastic container. Fifty children play with it every day, and it lasts for weeks. We don’t find it necessary to refrigerate the mixture.
I share a complete guide to boundaries with toddlers in No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame