Is it normal for a pre‐adolescent child to become nervous, uneasy, or afraid when mom and dad aren’t around? My daughter doesn’t want me to leave the house without her, and says she misses me when we’re apart. There have been no dramatic changes in our family life during the last few months, so I’m having a hard time understanding her behavior. Do you know why she might be acting this way?
Sudden and disturbing changes in a child’s behavior are usually the results of dramatic alterations in the circumstances of his or her life. You state specifically that nothing has changed in your family life within the recent past. If that’s true, then there is a possibility that something has changed in your daughter’s school environment or that she’s experienced some kind of stressful event of which you’re unaware.
The first thing you need to do is talk to your child about her apparent “separation anxiety” and the changes you’ve seen in her actions and attitudes. Naturally, you should be careful to do this in an affirming, non‐judgmental way. You might say something like this: “Honey, you know how much I love you. Lately I’ve noticed that it’s been really hard for you to be apart from me and do things on your own. I can’t help wondering if you’ve been feeling scared or worried about something.” If she’s unwilling to talk, don’t push her. Just reassure her that she can come to you any time about anything that might be bothering her. We would also encourage you to take an honest look at your relationship with your daughter. Have you been spending enough time with her? If you work outside the home, have your hours increased? Have the two of you become so busy with other activities that you rarely see each other? Every child is unique, and it’s possible that your daughter just needs more one‐on‐one “mom time” than some other girls.
Here are two things you might try. First, take every opportunity to praise your daughter when she acts independently or succeeds at doing things on her own. Even if she takes only a few small steps in that direction, let her know that you’re proud of her for showing initiative. Parents can never underestimate the importance of building Asset #2: Positive Family Communication. Be available and be affirming. Look for ways you can verbally encourage and bless your daughter. At the same time, make an effort to avoid giving in to her clinginess or manipulative behavior. Let her know that you love her, but don’t “baby” her or act overly concerned about every little thing that affects er. That will only reinforce her dependent behavior.
The second thing you might do is schedule regular mother‐daughter “dates” with her. These should be exclusive one‐on‐one engagements with no other family members present. It could be something as simple as taking a walk together one day each week, reading a book together for half an hour on a weekday evening, or shopping together at the grocery store. Plan these dates beforehand and put them on your kitchen calendar where your daughter can see them. Do your best to make them a priority. If you have other children, remember that it’s important to spend this kind of time with each one of them.