Frustrated because your baby needs you to entertain her? Learn how to entertain a baby all day as well as why she’s attached in the first place.
I had to carry my baby around because setting him down for even a second would make him cry. I shook a rattle, sang songs and played with him every minute because once I left his sight, he’d go right back to crying.
And I wasn’t denying him attention—he saw me all day. And it’s not like he was hurt or uncomfortable because he’d be fine the minute I picked him up.
I knew something had to be done. I 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:
How to entertain a baby all day
Your baby fusses when you step away because this is all he has known. He’s not crying because he’s teething or sick—it’s because he’s used to having you around. His emotions—scared, confused, uncomfortable—is an understandable one if he’s not used to being alone.
Understanding this will help you gain perspective and patience, especially as he seems to cry endlessly for you.
Sitting in his presence is one thing, but if you’re not engaged, your baby will want to spend more time with you. He needs his “bucket filled”—toting him around in the stroller with zero interaction doesn’t fill it.
1. Establish your expectations
First-time moms are shocked when they realize how different their lives are with a baby. We can’t read a book for hours or clean our homes the way we used to while the baby sits nearby.
His needs are appropriate for his development. In short, kids need us to be there for them.
Now that you know why your baby fusses—and that it’s even normal for him to do so—let’s get talk about ways to cope with a baby who has to be entertained 24/7. I followed this process to ease my baby gently away from always needing me:
2. Gradually wean your baby away from your lap
Gradual weaning means guiding your baby towards more alone time. Like we discussed, being alone when he isn’t used to it can upset him. Instead, you’ll learn how to gradually introduce the concept of playing alone.
First, sit with him on your lap. Then, lay him on the ground next to you with toys nearby.
If he cries, show empathy: “You look upset. Mama’s right here, love.” Comfort him by rubbing his belly or stroking his head. If he continues to cry, pick him up and place his back on your lap. Don’t get upset or frustrated: this is all new to him.
Do this a few times until he reaches a point where he’s fine being out of your lap or arms. If he’s okay laying on the ground, sit a few feet away. Let him know you’re still nearby by either talking or singing to him.
Any time he cries, reassure him and, if need be, go back to holding him in your lap or sitting next to him.
If he’s comfortable with you sitting a few feet away, place a few toys and books around him and walk around the room. Talk, sing and let him know you’re still nearby.
3. Step away 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 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. You need to do a few things even if he wants your attention.
Only in not entertaining your baby all the time 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 you stepping away for a second isn’t something to be afraid of.
4. 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, wash their bottles and 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, they’d rather be on their own.
Catch the moments when your baby seems more likely to want to play on his own. What times of the day is he most eager to explore? You’ve got a better chance at stepping away when he’s already engaged.
5. Engage with your baby during daily activities
Do you keep quiet while you feed your baby? How about bath time—do you prefer watching him splash instead of talking?
Use daily activities to engage with your baby. Tell him how you’re pulling out a new diaper to change him into. Describe what you’re feeding him 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 him, filling his bucket so he’ll feel more confident to branch out on his own later.
You’re of course free to talk to him during regular, non-maintenance times, but engaging when you’re together anyway will give you a chance to help him play by himself.
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 attention to your baby? Consider doing them instead during nap and bedtimes (when you’ll do a better job anyway).
6. Practice object permanence
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Your baby might cry when you leave his sight 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, while other times you’re gone several hours 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, too. Place a toy under 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 you’ll come back no matter what, just like how you do during a game of peek-a-boo.
7. Limit screen time
Plopping kids in front of the TV isn’t going to be effective in the long-run.
In the short-term, TV 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 don’t learn how to explore on their own and find ways to amuse themselves.
8. 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 him with toys while you tend to household tasks. I keep alphabet magnets 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.
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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. But hang in there. As frustrating as it may feel to hear your baby cry, switch from reacting with anger to being present and mindful of his needs.
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 him vary his sources of entertainment—and not rely only on you.
Learn more tips on how to help your baby self-entertain:
- How to Entertain Your Baby
- 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?
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