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Baby Steps: Keeps Me Hanging On

Q. My 7-month-old is the first grandson on both sides of the family. Everyone loves to hold him and carry him around. But now he's used to it and doesn't want to stay in his playpen or crib, and I can't get anything done!

A. Of course your son doesn't want to be alone. It's far more comfortable and interesting to be in the arms of a loving grown-up. But that doesn't mean you made a mistake in letting him have all of that cuddling. Tender physical contact is good for babies and helps them to feel loved.

Part of the problem right now could be that, at 7 months, your son may be starting to confront some separation anxiety. So it isn't just that he's grown accustomed to your arms, he's also a little more worried about your absence than he has been in the past.

Another factor to consider is that your son may be getting ready to crawl (if he hasn't started already). His need to move around and stretch his muscles may be adding to his resistance to being in confined spaces. If he's interested in moving around, try putting a blanket on the floor with some toys (or pots and pans, if you need to work in the kitchen). He may play a little more independently when he doesn't feel fenced in.

The trick to gaining some independence for both of you is to show him that there are ways to have fun outside of your arms, as well as to help him learn that your absences are temporary. If you need to use the playpen, you can start to get him accustomed to the idea by playing with him and engaging him in an interesting object just before you put him in. Once he gets involved, withdraw slightly, but don't leave just yet. Stay in the room at first, checking in with him in ways other than by touch -- talking to him, smiling at him, and answering his coos.

To help your son with his concerns about separation, you can play games such as peekaboo, which helps a baby learn that you will return. You can even say, "See, mommies come back." Show him about the permanence of other things, too, by covering and uncovering toys or dropping items in a container and removing them. You can then expand such games to include leaving the room, just for a moment, and then sticking your head back in the door.

Or say, "Mommy will be back in two minutes," and then leave the room. Stick to your promise, and start with small amounts of time and gradually increase it.

Remember, though, that babies don't have long attention spans. If you get more than 25 minutes of independent play, you will be the envy of plenty of mothers. Many babies entertain themselves for much shorter periods of time, and even the same baby may vary depending on mood, hunger, or whatever else is going on. Your baby wants and needs his senses stimulated -- that's why he's so lucky he's had all those people to carry him around -- and he'll always want to be where the action is.