Hug Your Way to an Independent Child

“Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!” is about the way a few hours of every day goes for me with my 17 month old. She insistently calls for me and wants to be held, hugged and paid attention to. So, we read books, sing together, cuddle, and sometimes often times I find myself completing tasks with one hand while she’s happily perched on my hip.

But, like many moms, I put up with it and try to enjoy it as much as I can. She’ll only be this little so long. I know that it’s only a matter of time before she becomes more independent.

My nearly four-year-old on the other hand is quite independent. He likes the occasional snuggle and asks to be played with from time to time. But, most of the time he can be found happily digging with his  trucks in the dirt, coloring pictures beside me while I work or making up an intricate story line with a few model dinosaurs. He also likes to help wash dishes and hang up laundry or page through a book.

As a baby and toddler, my son was similar to my daughter. He was attached to me or his father at most times. While he enjoyed wandering off on his own to play for a while, he was more often than not like velcro.

That’s my real life experience that shows me that being close and connected leads to independence. But, there’s more to it than one mom’s journey.

Hug Your Way to an Independent Child (1)

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Montessori on Babies and Independence

Montessori believed that children have a natural desire to become independent. But, she also believed that we should cultivate this in our children by giving them the security and connection they need.

In her book The Absorbent Mind, Montessori devotes several chapters to discuss the ideal conditions in which new-borns and very young children should grow up. In the chapter “The First Days of Life”, she criticizes common practices in Europe in the mid 1900s such as keeping the child away in a nursery or allowing a nurse to look after the baby.

She says that the natural order of things has been disturbed. She even cites other mammals and the way the mother takes time to spend specially with her new baby or babies, away from the others. Other countries, she says “seem to be more enlightened than ourselves…In almost all countries, the baby accompanies his mother wherever she goes. Mother and child are inseparable.”

What beautiful words. “Mother and child are inseparable.”

Growing to be Independent

Montessori, one of the first and greatest advocates of independence and freedom for children, encourages that the mother and child be inseparable during the first year or two of life!

Of course Montessori means this as a way to provide security for the child. A child who feels secure and safe will be much more likely to explore and try new things than a child who constantly feels worried about where his caregiver is and if they can be expected to respond to their crying. Montessori encourages us to be responsive, loving and close to our children to facilitate their own desire for independence to grow.

All children, even my clingy 17 month old baby girl, show a desire to be independent. She loves eating at her own small table and walking on her own. She also loves doing things all by herself and will begin a tantrum if help is offered. But, when she’s clingy, she’s getting that security from her parents that we’re still here.

A Word of Encouragement

I know it can feel tiring to deal with a clingy child who needs you all the time. But, this is their natural way of growing into independence. You CAN hug them into independence.

Sometimes I hear moms worrying whether or not they’re spoiling their baby by holding them too much. Don’t worry, you’re not.

And forcing them into independence is counter-productive. They’ll feel anxious and worry about being left to cry it out.

Instead, allow your child to lead the way. Offer ways for them to be independent by providing support, a stool to reach what they need, activities that develop their motor skills and allowing them to spill that water all over the place! Support your child when they demonstrate a desire to do things “all by myself”.

You can raise an independent child while holding, hugging and being with your child when they need you.


15 thoughts on “Hug Your Way to an Independent Child

  1. Yes! I completely agree with this. Babies need their mamas (and/or daddies)! My daughter had a nightmare the other night and was very anxious and upset. She clearly did not want to go back to sleep in her crib, so I brought her in to sleep with us the rest of the night. For a minute I worried that I was “creating a bad habit” or not allowing her to self-soothe, but my instincts told me that my baby needed to feel secure and so I did what I felt was right. I don’t think these moments of “clinginess” are going to hamper her independence as she grows older.

  2. Oh I didn’t really realise this but I think I am doing it without knowing. I have a two and one year old and both of them are no stranger to being attached to their mum. It can be trying at times but I think secretly I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks for joining us at #familyfun xx
    Tammymum recently posted…#FamilyFun…Week 17My Profile

    • Yes – I think it really is the natural way to go for a lot of moms…it just feels right! But many other well meaning folks may suggest that we hold our babies too much and are coddling them…well, it just isn’t true 🙂 Yes it’s possible to spoil a child, but being close and attached isn’t spoiling.

  3. Amen! I’m full agreement with this, it’s not the babies that need to be taught “how to be good” it’s the western world that needs to realise that the parenting choices they promote are going against nature. I’ll hug my little boy for as long as he’ll let me xx #familyfun

    • Go baby wearing! It’s the best way to get things done I swear. Watch as that boy becomes more and more independent! It’s amazing to see.

  4. I totally agree with this! My little guy is 13 months and I have always cuddled him lots and responded to him, even reluctantly cosleeping! He still needs my reassurance and comfort a lot but he’s really good at playing by himself, too. I think it’s natural that they need their parents when they are so small. Everything must be quite overwhelming for them! #FamilyFun
    Ellen recently posted…What type of parent do you want to be?My Profile

    • Yes – so true! Imagine, when they are so little they’re getting used to the idea that they’re no longer attached to mama. And if you nurse, well, they are sort of still attached anyway. It makes sense they need to be so close! We also did/do a lot of cosleeping. It’s an easy solution for the need to be close 🙂

  5. I’m a trained Montessori teacher and absolutely love reading Maria’s thoughts on everything child-related. It’s amazing that someone of that era theorised in a way that was so progressive. She certainly thought outside the box and because of her, our daughter (third child) has been raised and nurtured as Montessori suggested. She’s 17 months now and very clingy but I love this, it’s fantastic to be so close so often. Pretty soon she won’t need me or her father so much so I want to give her everything she needs before that time comes.

    • Yes – isn’t it fascinating? Every time I read or reread Montessori’s writings, I always learn something new and am inspired by her ideas. And yes, sounds like we have a little one about the same age. The clingy-ness won’t last much longer. Thanks for reading!

  6. This was such an interesting read. I’m a SAHM and am with my 2 year old all the time. We have lots of cuddles and I’ve always tried to make sure that she knows she’s very loved, but had worried this would cause her to be clingy. Strangely it seems to have had the opposite effect! Whenever we go out, she’s so sociable and will chat to anyone. And when we go to any toddler groups, she’s so independent and I often joke to other mums that she wouldn’t notice if I just dropped her off and went home! I never previously clicked that her independence may be linked to the reassurance of feeling loved and secure but of course it makes perfect sense! #familyfun

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