Frustrated because your baby needs you to entertain her? Here’s why your baby is attached and what to do when you have to keep baby entertained constantly.
I had to carry my baby around because setting him down for even a second would make him to cry. I’d shake a rattle and sing songs and play with him every minute. Because the minute I’d leave his sight, he’d go right back to crying.
I wasn’t denying him attention—he’d see me all day. And it’s not like he was hurt or uncomfortable because he’d be fine the minute I’d pick him up.
I knew something had to be done and found ways that helped my baby play by himself and rely less on me to be entertained. Here’s what I learned:
A few things before we dive into how to peel away from your baby:
Understand why your baby fusses
Your baby fusses when you step away because this is all she has known. She’s not crying because she’s teething or sick. She’s not used to not having you around. Understanding this will help you gain perspective and patience. Her reaction—scared, confused, uncomfortable—is a natural one if she’s not used to being alone.
Look at the quality of your interactions.
Sitting in her presence is one thing, but if you’re not engaged, your baby will want to spend more time with you. She needs her “bucket filled.” Toting her around in the stroller with zero interaction doesn’t fill it.
Establish your expectations.
First-time moms are shocked when they realize how different their lives are with a baby. You can’t expect to resume your old life where you could read a book for hours while your baby sits nearby.
Her needs are appropriate for her development. Parents’ faces are a baby’s preferred “toy” over any fancy gadget.
What to do when you have to keep baby entertained constantly
Now let’s get into the nitty gritty ways to cope with a baby who needs to be entertained 24/7:
#1: Gradual weaning
Guide her towards more alone time. First, sit with her on your lap. Then, lay her on the ground next to you with toys nearby.
If she cries, empathize: “You look upset. Mama’s right here, love.” Comfort her by rubbing her belly or stroking her head. If she continues to cry, pick her up and place her back on your lap. Don’t get upset or frustrated: this is all new to her.
Do this a few times until she reaches a point where she’s fine being out of your lap or arms. If she’s fine laying on the ground, sit a few feet away. Let her know you’re still nearby by either talking or singing to her.
Any time she cries, reassure her and if need be, revert to holding her in your lap or sitting next to her.
If she’s comfortable with you sitting a few feet away, place a few toys and books around her and walk around the room. Talk, sing and let her know you’re still nearby.
#2: Step away from your baby a little at a time
You may not be able to plop your baby in front of toys and expect him to play for 45 minutes. Instead, break the ties a little at a time. Need to stand up to grab a burp cloth? Do so, without feeling obligated to carry your baby with you. He might cry, but these little breaks and separations will let him know that you always come back.
Don’t beat yourself up if your baby cries because you had to set him down to get his milk for a second. Some things need you need to do even if the baby is vying for your attention.
Use these little opportunities to step away for a second. Only in not entertaining your baby will he learn how to play without you next to him. Make it normal and casual and don’t make a big deal out of it. Your baby will know that mama stepping away for a second isn’t something to be afraid of.
#3: Use opportune moments to step away
I noticed that the half hour or so after my twins wake up is when they’re most focused on independent play. Something about being in their cribs for a long time makes them want to explore and play once they’re out.
During that time, I tend to my eldest. I wash their bottles. I do what I need to do before engaging with them. This is the time when they’re honing their focusing skills. Even if I wanted to play with them, I’m betting they’d rather be on their own.
Catch the moments when your baby seems more likely to want to play on her own. You’ve got a better chance at stepping away when she’s already engaged.
#4: Engage with your baby during daily activities
Do you keep quiet while you feed your baby? How about bath time—do you prefer watching her splash instead of talking?
Use these opportunities during daily activities to engage with your baby. Tell her how you’re pulling out a new diaper to change her into. Describe what you’re feeding her. And explain the stories you’re reading. Show positive engagement during “basic maintenance.”
Why? You’re giving her attention during a time when you already “have” to be with her. And you’re filling her bucket so she’ll feel more confident to branch out on her own later.
You’re of course free to talk to her during regular, non-maintenance times. But engaging when you’re together anyway will give you a chance later to help her play by herself.
And make the time you spend with your baby count. Babies cling for various reasons, including a genuine need for quality attention. Do you do too many chores around the house without providing much attention to your baby? Consider doing them instead during nap and bedtimes (when you’ll do a better job anyway).
#5: Practice object permanence
Your baby might cry when you leave his sight is because he doesn’t know whether you’ll come back.
After all, he has a limited concept of time. Sometimes you leave for a few seconds to grab his bottle. Other times you’re gone several hours when you’re at work. He can’t tell one from the other, or worse, worries whether you’ll come back at all.
How to combat this fear? Play object permanence games such as peek-a-boo. Cover your baby’s face with a cloth before revealing in a delighted way that mommy is still right here.
Play the game using items. Place a toy underneath a blanket and pretend to look for it. “Where did teddy go?” you might ask with a big smile on your face. Then pull the blanket for the big reveal.
Just because he can’t see you doesn’t mean you’re gone (maybe just in the next room or even a few feet away). And he’ll also learn that you’ll com back no matter what, just like how you do during a game of peek-a-boo.
#6: Limit screen time
Plopping kids in front of the TV isn’t going to be effective in the long-run.
In the short-term, it can be a solution when you just need to run to the bathroom or keep your sanity. But kids who watch too much television aren’t able to find active ways to self-entertain. They watch and absorb but didn’t learn how to explore on their own and find ways to amuse themselves.
#7: Use survival tools
Speaking of quick fixes, sometimes you need survival tools so you can run to the bath room or give your arms a break. While these don’t “teach” your baby to entertain herself, they can give you the break you need.
- Place your baby in a high chair or bouncy seat where he can still see you.
- Provide her with toys while you tend to household tasks. I have a bucket of magnets I keep next to my kitchen when I need to prepare their meals.
- Use a baby carrier (like this one). Baby carriers will let you “hold” your baby while leaving your hands free.
- Make it a game. When a baby is crying because I’ve stepped away to another room, I’ll pop my head back out and say, “peek a boo!” Not being seen (then being seen) becomes a game, buying me some time.
So you’re about to try and catch a moment away from the baby. No more hovering, singing, talking, or holding 24/7. And you’re bracing yourself for the worst.
Expect a few tears, some ups and downs and perhaps some frustration on both your parts. And don’t freak out. As frustrating as it may feel to hear your baby cry, switch from reaction to being present.
Yes, it’s not pleasant. You have a zillion things to do. And you’re losing your patience. But with gradual weaning, connecting with your baby and making it fun, you can help your baby vary her sources of entertainment—and not rely solely on you.
Learn more tips on how to help your baby self-entertain:
- How to Gently Handle Your Baby’s Separation Anxiety
- What You Should Know about Separation Anxiety
- What To Do When Your Child Misses a Parent
- Extracurricular Activities: Does Your Child Freak Out and Cling onto You?
Your turn: Did you entertain your baby 24/7? What is your top tip for when baby needs to be entertained constantly? Share in the comments!
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