Q&A: Mom’s hand is the human lovey

And now back to an old-fashioned sleep question. This one is a classic. Priyanka writes:

"I am a mother of a 10.5 months old girl. She is a good baby and doesn't
trouble me much. She's been STTN [Ed. note: sleeping through the night] in her crib since she was 2 months old
and I have never faced much sleep deprivation. I had to do mild CIO when
she was around 4 months old to transition her naps from swing to crib
and to teach her to sleep by herself mostly for naps. Her naps and night
sleep has been going perfectly well until I had to take this vacation.
She knew how to put herself back to sleep if she woke up in the middle
of the night.

When she was around 7.5 months old I went to
India to spend sometime with my parents. Over there I had to make her
sleep on bed. So I had to stay with her in the bed until she is asleep
(both for naps and at night) so that she doesn't fall. She would sleep
fine and sleep through the night but she got in a habit of holding/
caressing/ pinching my hand while she tried to put herself to sleep. I
was unaware of the fact that it's becoming a habit because of which I am
suffering after coming back.

I was in India for about 2.5 months. After coming back, here she sleeps
in her crib but she is obsessed about my hand. Initially I gave her my
hand and she would fall asleep within seconds. But when she wakes up in
the middle of the night she needs my hand again. She now wakes up
multiple times in the night and after a while she just ends up in our
bed because I am tired of putting her to sleep by giving her my hand.

I tried to do CIO but it's just not working this time. Even after a
month she just wants my hand or my husband's. I tried giving her stuffed
toys, blanket, etc. but she just takes it and throws it out of the
crib. Whenever I leave her to cry she just keeps standing in the crib
holding the rail and keeps on crying without sitting down even for a
second. So now I am abandoning the idea of CIO. But I do not have any
more ideas. Do you? Any thoughts, suggestions, advice? Please help.

Gah! I think this happens to a lot of people, with a parent's hand, or mole (I hear a lot of mole stories). Remember the one we had a few years ago with the mom's hair?

In an ideal world you could fill a surgical glove with dishwashing soap so it felt like a hand, and leave that in her crib. But I think that would get messy in real life, plus she probably wouldn't be fooled.

My first suggestion, and I know I say this every single time, but it's surprising how much it seems to help, is to talk to her during daytime hours about what should be happening at night. If you tell her and help her rehearse the plan in her head then she'll have a better idea of what to do in the nighttime. I know she can't talk yet, but almost-1-year-olds have a ton of receptive language. If you keep telling her that when she wakes up she can go back to sleep by lying down and closing her eyes, etc. then she will be better able to actually do that in the middle of the night.

My second suggestion is to understand that this period (from the 9-month sleep regression through the 13-month sleep regression) can be one whole long period of crappy sleep and general disease and willfullness for some kids. The absolute nadir of my parenting experience was when my older one was 10-11 months. I just felt like I couldn't do anything right, and he was sleeping like crap, and I couldn't understand how I was getting it so wrong when I'd been doing it for almost a year at that point! He and his sleep and rhythm and everything just seemed really opaque at that point, almost like I was starting over with a different kid and nothing I'd done before was working.

And then it just seemed to kind of slowly click back into place over the course of a few weeks. I've heard this from many people, that some children seem to just go through a few months of chaos right around this age. It's extremely frustrating. And makes you feel like you're out of ideas. But just knowing that this is something that happens with some kids can help, I think, because you know it's not just you, and you can try to ride the wave a bit and not be so concerned that you're not steering at the moment.

And now I'm out of suggestions, because my other suggestion would have been to try to substitute in some other lovey for your hand. But you've done that, and it just makes her angry. (Good news: She knows quality and won't accept cheap imitations. Good life skill.) So I'm going to see if the readers have anything. And otherwise I'll hope that talking to her about it will help her calm down and get herself back to sleep when she wakes up. And that the next few weeks go by quickly until she ages out of this chaos and back into sleeping again.

Readers? Did anyone successfully wean their kids off a human lovey without trauma to anyone involved? Tell us what you did.

42 thoughts on “Q&A: Mom’s hand is the human lovey”

  1. Ugh, my son did the same from about 6 months up till now (he’s 2.5). Only recently have we been able to start getting him away from needing our hand to fall asleep, though it’s taken months of us sitting on the floor next to his bed, months of him whining and crying to hold our hands, etc. I wish I could offer some advice, but clearly we did not handle it in a very effective way. Good for you for trying to break the habit earlier than we did! I just wanted to let you know you aren’t alone. 🙂

  2. My son did this with my hair. Nothing would placate him…I might suggest a small scrap of fabric that smells like you (an old shirt?) and try to get her holding this during the day. Also know that kids this age are more aware of presence and absence so even though you assume it is your hand she wants, she probably wants YOU. No faking her out but maybe transitioning to something else (not a substitute but a wholly different object)is possible? Hope so.

  3. I am useless to the OP on this issue because I have no ideas. But I am going to tell a story.When my son was 14 months[?] (18 months? two years old? I don’t remember), he would wake up in the middle of the night and DEMAND, with SHRIEKING, that he needed a bowl of Cheerios, and we better get the ______ up and get them or he was going to wake up our whole apartment building. It was awful. We didn’t want to give into the extortionate behavior, but we also didn’t want him to wake up our sweet neighbors or his sister, and we wanted to get some ___________ sleep ourselves. So I or my husband would troop out to the kitchen, give him the cereal, wait until he was done, and then go back to bed. I really can’t begin to say how awful this was. The interrupted sleep, the feeling like lousy parents for not being able to stop the cycle. Awful. It negatively affected everything.
    Then, at some point, it stopped. I don’t remember when or why. But he’s four now, and he’s consistently slept through the night for a long time now.
    Recently a friend mentioned to me this awful late-night Cheerio-extortion racket my son was running back in the day. And honest to God I had completely forgotten about it. I mean, it was gone from my mind and I don’t think I would ever have thought of it again if my friend had not reminded me of it.
    So, the (useless to the OP right now) moral of this story is, eventually this pattern will end. And you may not even remember it, awful as it is! (And it is awful. I feel for you.)
    The other moral of this story is, parents of older kids are often the WORST source of info and comfort for parents of younger kids. (Moxie and several of her commenters are significant exceptions to this rule.) Many parents of older kids are grossly over-confident because yes, they’ve been through it, but often they really don’t have accurate memories of what it was like. Grandparents are sometimes like this, too.

  4. I have a thought, which is that you sew a small stuffed animal to a terry-cloth wristband and that you wear it. Hopefully, she’ll be able to easily transfer from your hand to the stuffed animal if it’s on your wrist, and then you can slip the stuffed animal off your wrist when she’s asleep. Then maybe she’ll be soothed with the stuffed animal that WAS on your wrist when she wakes up in the night.

  5. I got nothin’, especially given that my breast (nursing) was my son’s lovey at that age. But I do second/third/etc. the idea that sleep is just crappy about 8-11 months. It makes sense in terms of working on incredible skills at this point (crawling! walking! talking! understanding complex sentences! understanding that objects can be categorized and sorted! Phew.). It’s hard being a baby.And yes, talk to her. Read books about happy bedtimes and happy sleep. Also, sometimes the only way out is through. You won’t break her by trying any of the above – or by just giving up for a few weeks and trying again later.

  6. I read somewhere–maybe The Sleep Lady book–about someone whose child used her fingers and she managed to transfer them to a stuffed cow with horns that were roughly the same width as her fingers or in some way comparable. I don’t remember the details, and I know you’ve tried stuffed animals, but that’s my only suggestion (besides patience and time and knowing that this could just be an awful period of sleep that has nothing to do with your vacation, it just seems like it): try a stuffed animal that has some feature that might be comparable to what she likes about hands, and then work on transferring her (like, if she’s nursing, and if she grabs your hand while nursing, too, then start trying to sub in the stuffed animal’s horns/legs/whatever at that time, when she’s not explicitly trying to go to sleep).

  7. No suggestions from me, as my 9-month-old thankfully is still quite attached to her lovey, but just want to comment that I think liz’s suggestion is stellar. Way to think out of the box!

  8. I’m going to give the talk/replacement lovey method a try! My 12-month won’t fall back to sleep unless my hand is on her back. And I have to wait until she’s deeply asleep to remove my hand, which can take awhile. She was STTN great until 9 months, but then a series of disruptions have thrown everything off. We’re back to decent sleep, except for the hand on the back thing.

  9. I like the day-time talking it through and then at night to softly remember it together too (although maybe the no-hand sleep will be an acceptable solution to your child, but maybe not).But I was also thinking that maybe you could pick something (together?) to be a lovey and when you hold her to snuggle or comfort her during the day, you also hold the new lovey in your hand so that she can get used to having the lovey to touch along with your hand. You can talk about how she can use the lovey instead if she wakes up in the night to help her feel better. My thinking is that if you can introduce the lovey when she is not super-upset, then maybe it’ll be more acceptable when she is upset.

  10. Can she touch her own hand? You could talk about how everyone has a hand in the day time and remind her that “Hey, you have a hand too. And it’s always with you! Yay! Hands are Great! Isn’t this Wonderful!???”

  11. “this too shall pass” is the most frustrating parenting advice I’ve ever heard!! But then I realize it’s true 🙂 It DOES pass, and then they get some new, drive-me-crazy behaviour that I feel I must change. Although I only have 1 child (another on the way), I have come to the belief that it’s easier on me and my family to just give in and let go. When I go to battle over something that I think she shouldn’t be doing (i.e. waking me up at night), I end up even more exhausted and frustrated than if I had just let her into my bed for a snuggle. This isn’t to say that we should let our children run around willy-nilly brandishing knives, but just to say that I have only ever been “successful” at parenting when I pick my battles – no, you can’t cross the road without holding my hand. No, you can’t slap that other child. Yes, you can use me as a human pacifier until you’re ready to let go 🙂

  12. @Misty, amen sister. My 23 month old loves to twist my wedding band round and round and round while he’s nursing/falling asleep. It can be *maddening* at times, but mostly I think it’s sweet. He’ll do it with his daddy too. Sorry I have no advice to offer 🙁

  13. I already tried stuffed animals and it doesn’t work! He actually sleeps through the day just fine without me, but at night he demands my hand!I don’t have any advice since I’m going through the same problem.
    As a side note, he wants to hold my hand while I have to press it gently against his cheek/forehead. I suppose this is something that gives him the feeling of being in the uterus or something…. But I dont know

  14. I introduced a lovie for a swing addiction, by tucking a stuffed cow into Mr G’s arms every time he started to nod off in the swing. So he had both both both both both and then I started to (when he looked like he would really konk out anyway) putting him down with just the cow. Gradually more cow, less swing+cow, and he transferred to the cow.He eventually ended up with a transitional process for transitional objects, where he could select anything to be the object at the beginning of the day, and that thing would be IT for the day. So it was pretty useful.
    Unfortunately not as effective with Mr B, whose transitional object was actually Mr G. Yeah, he locked on to big brother as the main security object. That was impossible to break, and it is still there, at 10 years old. Big Love there, so … hard to say no to, as well (and really, Mr B can cope if Mr G isn’t available, but he just wants him there for a lot of stuff).
    So, win some, not so win some, but worth a shot. Good luck! (I got a lot of pinching as comfort behavior from two of my kids, and ow, but I actually noticed after a while I started getting a positive endorphin response when I was pinched, too! Ha, the universe has a sense of humor. Oy.)

  15. Older DS (5) has needed to pick and scratch on me or DH since he weaned @16 mo. Just one part of a truckload of sleep issues with him. (Younger DS(3) has been like therapy or his parents in this dept.)We got one of those bumpy balls they sell everywhere and slightly deflated it so it would feel like us and all our bumps. We call it “pinch-y ball.”. We break it out when the picking gets bad. (He’s drawn blood.) Iit’s just a sensory thing with him. It has to be on someone/thing other than himself. At least now he has the language to tell us what’s going on.

  16. I was the mom whose son was in love with my hair. I’m happy to report that he did grow out of it. I got a fairly big square scarf and made it into a “jellyfish” for him, by basting a big circle in it, gathering it, and stuffing the top. There was no way to strangle on it, since the longest bit was only about 8″, and he did hold it going to sleep (mostly). That plus the silk scarf around my neck while I nursed did the trick at least well enough to get me through it.I think that my best “lesson learned” from the whole experience is to try to figure out what quality of your hand she actually loves, and then find a safe way to give her that, even if it seems weird. I think someone suggested a stress ball in the other thread – that might work better than a stuffed animal. I would try not to worry at all if it’s something that you wouldn’t normally give a baby, as long as it’s safe.
    Good luck – I know exactly how frustrating this can be.

  17. My son is the same, except his favourite part of me is my squishy upper arm. Just a hand is a good night. Not touching at all but still next to him is a great night. Not many of those.I tried giving him one of those gel wrist supports for putting in front of keyboards or mousepads. He calls it Squishy. It (or a stress ball, my husband collects them from conferences. Son’s current fave is a strongman LOL) will satisfy when it is just the physical sensation he needs (he has minor sensory issues).
    But as others have mentioned, it can be also emotionally wanting ME too (he’s very clingy). For that I have no solutions, so I cave, because all attempts otherwise have failed miserably and made things worse. Hope I can find some ideas or insight here too. Meanwhile I keep waiting for him to grow out of it. And waiting…..

  18. My son (5.5 YO) is addicted to “Button” – his name for the mole between my breasts. He doesn’t need it to fall asleep, as he is at his dad’s every other weekend and one weeknight a week and I am not there. But he gets quite demanding for it at night time when he is with me. Sometimes I find this annoying and get resentful, but for the most part I am thankful for these moments of “baby” left.

  19. I could have written this post! That is to say that I have no advice! Whenever I complain about a ‘bad’ sleep habit, my husband says, ‘So, she needs to pinch your arm to fall asleep. If that’s the worst ‘problem’ we have, then we’re pretty darn blessed.’

  20. My 4yo ran her hand up our arms, under our sleeves, for a long time. Eventually she figured out that she could get the skin feel from herself (cue a whole ‘nother issue I’m not going into here), but when she’s tired in the car, she does still sometimes want my hand. It’s probably not just the sensation, it’s probably also you she wants.. which is difficult when you want/need to do other things/or just plain be out of contact w/ baby for a bit. This is a big separation anxiety point, but it *will* ease. Eventually.My 20mo prefers her earlobes, which is much more convenient for us all. 😉

  21. My 3.5-year-old, who nurses at morning, nap, and bedtime, still does this — she has to stroke/pinch either the fleshy part of my hand between my thumb and forefinger, or a hemangioma on my chest that we just call a “mole,” while nursing, particularly when she’s trying to fall asleep. I’ve tried everything to get it to stop, or at least be gentle: taking my hand away, saying “ouch,” saying we can’t nurse unless she’s gentle, trying to replace the hand/mole with a stuffed animal (she has several favorites), trying to replace them with an old t-shirt of mine (she loves it, but it’s still no substitute. She gets really angry and agitated if the option is taken away. I know she’ll eventually give it up (right?), but have no idea how.

  22. @Melissa, good point on sensory issue. Pinching is a drive to get joint information to brain. Pressure on fingertip through joint compression. Pinching exercises during the day and before bed might also ‘feed’ that drive so it isn’t so hungry at night. Basically what the OT/PT said to us, if they’re doing something physical that bugs you or isn’t safe, find a way to meet the same need in a safe way, and the obsessive unfun version will tone down.Squishing cooked peas between fingertips? Playdoh squeezing? Pinching rolled clay into flat shapes? Pinching gel shoe inserts to make the colored part squoosh out of the way? Any of those may ‘feed’ that drive enough that it is isn’t like trying to go to sleep desperately thirsty.

  23. I’m with mompluskid. If this is a problem you’re blessed. I am just a lowly first time mom of a five month old… I don’t have as much experience, and so this may come off as smug or naive or Debby Downer… BUT my husband went to a baby’s wake yesterday. In that little box lay all the memories those parents will ever have. Do we want to look back and say “you were addicted to my hand, what a nuisance, we conditioned you to stop”? I’m all for sleep and routine, but I just can’t help my reaction to this. I know OP must be a good and loving mother no matter what her choice, and I certainly mean no judgment. Just another point of view no matter how, as I said, naive it may seem. With respect.

  24. Does she snore? It’s always worth getting her checked out to see if there is some obstructive apnea going on–I know my son would wake up and not be able to soothe himself back to sleep, because children with apnea tend to wake up scared and not know why. Once we cleared up that issue (removing his adenoids in his case) we had a little tiny bit of teaching him how to go back to sleep without waking up mom and dad, and now he sleeps through the night like a champ.

  25. Long time lurker and just had to comment b/c I actually googled this exact thing the other night. My 8 month old needs to hold my hand to fall asleep…no advice, just another voice to the chorus of “me too”! Liz’s suggestion of putting a lovey on my hand is a good one…may try to get crafty and try that!

  26. Oh, man, what Helen said: the interrupted sleep PLUS feeling like it’s your own damn fault for not being able to break the pattern. It’s the combo that’s the killer. And I’d add to that the sneaking suspicion that your baby is somehow weird or defective — part of what’s so calming about the responses to posts like these is learning that this is a perfectly normal feature of infancy, insanity-making as it may be.Ali, I think your point about all this being small potatoes relative to say, death, is true, and could even be a helpful reminder if it allows us to ease up on the feeling like total parenting failures, but the thing is — and I’m sure you actually already know this, since the first 5 months give you plenty of chances to learn it — that truth simply doesn’t/can’t sustain us from one moment to the next. I mean, virtually *any* problem most of us face as parents (or as people) is less painful than the death of a child, but knowing that doesn’t allow us to go through life as if we had no problems. Nor, in fact, would we be good parents if we parented exclusively through the lens of “but what if my kid died.” If something awful happened to my daughter tomorrow, god forbid, you can bet that I’d look back and say, oh man, if only I could have just ONE more three am snuggle session with her, even one where she insists on nursing so much that when I lay her down she projectile vomits all over herself and me — and I *do* actually try to get myself to think that way at three am, when I’m covered in puke, if I possibly can (not usually by summoning the specter of death, just with the dim knowledge that one day she’ll be all grown up, and I’ll yearn for the touch of her baby self, however puke-y) — but I also know that we will both be better off if I can, sooner rather than later, get the two of us an uninterrupted night’s sleep. That’s sanity, not a failure to appreciate my blessings.
    So, yes, reach for that perspective of blessedness as often as you can if it helps you to negotiate your own life more graciously, but — and, again, the tone of your post suggests you already kind of know this — don’t pretend that its a perspective that we can (or even should) maintain at the expense of perceiving any need or frustration whatsoever.

  27. OMG, the mole thing is A THING?My son did this, and I thought it was so weird. He reverts to it still, at age 2, in times of toddler angst (like getting those final molars). Last night, when he was ready for bed, he said, “I want to go upstairs and tickle your mole.”
    Not sure how I feel about that.

  28. @Anna, I just laughed out loud. A few months ago my 23 month old son started playing with the skintag that is at the base of my armpit/next to my left breast. He’s a little pinchy, sometimes it’s uncomfortable; I thought it was a little weird but now I see I’m not alone… AH that is so comforting. I love you all.

  29. My 2nd born son (almost 3yo) developed a mommy lovey too. When he’s stressed or tired he wants to “pat” my tummy. We co-sleep so other than being mildly annoying at night, it’s no big deal then. However it has become something he does in tense situations as well. He DEMANDS to pat my tummy and starts lifting my shirt. I figure it’s just a phase and have kept my cool about it. He’ll grow out of it.And it occasionally helps me get him to brush his teeth by promising a tummy pat. Sorry. I know it’s weird. Whatevs 🙂

  30. @Vacationland Mom – Skin tags! That reminded me that DS1 used to fixate on those too, before I removed a few. I sometimes refer to him as my dermatologist. He finds any irregularity on my skin to pick on.@Hedra – Good reminder from your OT. Ours gave us the pinch-y ball idea, but hearing folks mention the gel inserts or stress ball makes me think that might be worth a try. He loves play dough too, and I’ve forgotten to put that out lately. Worth a shot, as he’s ramped up picking since starting K two weeks ago. He needs an outlet that must be missing in his school day.

  31. My 6.5 year old DD loves my “moley” too. She used to rub it when nursing, and still to this day wants to rub it if she’s upset or needs comfort. My 15 month old has now started to do the same thing. It doesn’t bother me too terribly, except when the pull or pick at it. I had no idea it was a THING, either…

  32. Naoko Takahashi endorsement ASICS, also won the gold medal in the women’s marathon wearing Asics Running Shoes, enough practicable card. Followed by the support plate, but wearing now completely healed

  33. IMO you certainly didn’t do annyihtg wrong letting dude know that Disapproving McManlyPants is Disapproving was a good low-end option. I probably wouldn’t have done more, because I find that by the time I finish my evaluation of a situation like that, it’s changed enough that I feel like I have to re-evaluate (I’m really slow at determining appropriate social responses to things). Were you able to catch her eye during this to let her know you were on her side, or annyihtg?

  34. Thanks everyone! Maeve’s Momma, I agree too I can’t stand ppeole who are rude to waitresses! Kelly, thank you!Donna, I have a feeling it was a cook’s fault as I heard at some point that someone in the kitchen walked out.Sarita, my mom and most of my family have been waitresses, we were taught well to give respect where it is due! 🙂

  35. This song and video is great! It makes me wonder what I can do to help canghe things for people who are in need of desperate help. The quote about god walking beside you even when you don’t know he’s there, but he is – he leaves his footprintes in the sand. Love it! Tina

  36. There are times when I can’t sleep and something I’ve tried very rncletey is to work my way through the alphabet and, for each letter, think of something to be thankful for. I found this advice on someone else’s blog but can’t remember whose (sorry!) and it seems to be very effective. For me, it’s helpful thinking about the good stuff, switching the focus to what’s going well. The job of keeping track of which letter you’ve got to and choosing what it is you’re thankful for for that letter is all pretty consuming, too. The mind gets properly diverted. So far, I’ve got nowhere near the end of the alphabet and have fallen asleep smiling (I think !).Gee Backhouse rncletey posted..

  37. Great advice, Julie! It’s a canglehle so many face, particularly as we get older and/or deal with life’s stresses. One tip I got from Dr. Oz that really helps me is to dim the lights an hour before bedtime. I found out that lowered light levels release melatonin, the hormone that readies the mind and body for sleep. Thanks for sharing insights on something affecting so many!

  38. This is Worried Mum, I am glad to tell you that m my daughter is home, after much vinoelce again, Weighing 47kgs an 5ft 10. I need some advise as this must not go on any longer.We need an Order placed on him immediately, He knows the system very well as he has been there before. We do not have much faith in it at all anymore.Last time he kept following her unbeknown to me until the opportune time came and he got to her again. You would have read the last letter. Well last friday the 11th nov. He was driving erraticaly around Albion when he wiped out a front fence and drove off. Soon after the police noticed his driving and were not aware of the fence incident, but pulled him over anyway, the car unreg. no plates. no brakes. He has a learners permit only. They told him he would get summonsed by mail. Then before they left M who was very upset and waiting for this opportunity to get away from him asked the police to give her a lift as she wanted to get back to her home. At first they were a bit reluctant but after speaking to her on her own for a while they decided 2. drove her to Sunshine and she rang to be picked up by family .’M’ was unable to leave before this as she was NEVER able to be alone at any time even to bathroom as He thought she may get threw the window and leave. Behind each door of the house he lived in he has nails and the doors are boarded . All windows locked. She cried to me saying he would say to her, I will put you in a barrel and no-one would even know you were there.’ things like that, God only knows what else too. She is scared stiff of this person. He has got her believing that he will do something to her or her family one day.Personally I think men who do these kind of thing s have no balls. Sorry for being so crude, but thats exactly what I think. So we will try to stop him again and this time get somewhere. Why should we have to be victim to this kind of behavior. Nobody should. Sadly it seems it has fell on deft ears so far. Yet if we were to handle this in a manner the way he has with her we would be jailed. All we want is for him to stay well away from her and let her live in peace and have some happiness. It will take a long time for her to ever get over all this if ever.Thankyou all for your interest and would be happy for any advise in regard to this matter.This person can manipulate, his way out of anything .He has the uncanny knack of being able to turn things around to suit himself. He can cry and make out he cares, in the next breath turn and be aggressive, violent, and abusive.

  39. mary is my sister , my whole fmlaiy as been affected by the animal , i hope and pray every day for a phone call to know she is safe , recently i was told she was seen in ashopping centre with two blacks eyes , it breaks my heart , my sister is loved and cared about by us all , but we are helpless in getting any help , society and the law seems to accept that domestic violence is the norm , i pray my sister one day finds freedom , and will return to us safe , more should be done by the appropriate channels to help these victims and there families . before they become another statistic !!!!!!

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