My son, who will be 5 years old next month, has a severe anxiety issue going on. He has always been clingy, even as an infant, but it has only gotten worse as he has gotten older. This all happens at home. For the majority of the time he is just fine at preschool (4 hours a day) and speech class (30 mins 3 days a week for apraxia) but at home he clings to me constantly. He will not go to the kitchen alone, even if I am in the dining room (they connect) he will not "allow" me to go to the restroom alone while he is playing in the living room. He will stop what he is doing and follow me. If he needs something, drink, restroom himself, etc he constantly asks me to follow him. If I tell him he needs to go on his own because I am busy he will cry and scream and refuse to go on his own. I have tried talking it out with him. He sticks to the same excuse of "I'm scared" with no reason of why. We have assured him the house is safe, we don't ever leave him without returning (and never except school and his grandma babysitting for a few hours once every few months) that he is safe, etc. It doesn't work. We have tried being tough, telling him he is a big boy and needs to be brave and overcome this fear. It doesn't work. We have refused to follow him figuring eventually he will go on his own. It doesn't work. We are at our wits end, not knowing why he is so scared, what is causing all this anxiety in him or how to help him. He has not had any big events in his life, he was born in our current house, he has not lost anyone close to him (friends/family/neighbors/pets), we have never been the vicitim of a crime - nothing! I have 2 older sons who did not develop this anxiety so I have not been in this position before. What can I do to assure him he is safe and help him to be more independant?
This type of separation anxiety disorder has its origins in brain chemistry, not in real life experiences. That is why it persists in spite of the reality that your son has not experienced traumatic events in his life. And that is also why your efforts to reassure him do not fundamentally change the situation. Now, if he were impeded in his school participation or other normal challenges for a child his age, I would be recommending medication in addition to other measures. However, since he is doing well outside the home, I am not recommending medication. You can influence the condition by how you handle it at home. When you say that 'it doesn't work', I assume you mean that eventually you defer to his wishes (e.g., by accompanying him). If you do, you actually reinforce the condition. If he is insisting that you accompany him to another room, for example, do not do it and stick to your decision, in spite of his reaction. In addition, establish a reward system to implement when he does do things by himself.
Thank you for the reply. I did want to clarify, that yes sometimes we do give in and follow him. But there are plenty of times we don't. As an example, yesterday while typing my original post, my son wanted a toy from the adjoining room. He asked me to follow him and I told him he could go on his own, I was in the middle of typing and would be right here. He actually cried himself to sleep while tugging on me and begging me to follow him. So staying stong, didn't work, as in he didn't go on his own and get what he needed. Another example is also yesterday, he went to the kitchen on his own while I was in the living room helping his older brother with homework. He poured himself a cup of juice and I praised him alot for this. He didn't ask me to follow first and I was so proud. I realized that he left the door open on the fridge and asked him to go close it (after praising him) and he refused, got upset and begged me to follow him. He had just gone to the exact same place on his own without prompting 2 minutes earlier, but was now "scared" to go back. as for school, he does very well. He is shy, but I assume that is due to his Apraxia since he knows now that many people do not understand his words. He is ok with me leaving him at school (after 3 kisses and hugs, no more no less) but he also knows I will be back at noon for him every day. I'm not ever late and the few times I have asked if he wanted to stay for extended time to play with his friends longer, he was adament on "NO!". I am not sure if that makes a difference? Not that I want to medicate my son, just wanted to add more info based on your responce.
Try not to expect that in any one instance he will go ahead on his own - at times he will not. This is a 'bite the bullet' approach and it will take time for change to occur. But let that be. If he chooses not to go in alone to get a toy, for example, be sure not to go in and get it for him. In the kitchen example you offered, you were wise to praise him. It would have been better then to simply go in and close the door yourself, rather than create a problem by having him go back in. Just as with the first example you cited, at times he will spontaneously do the very thing that he sometimes fearful og doing. 'Catching' him at such moments is helpful, because you can reward him. I suggest you establish a DOING IT BY YOURSELF CHART, and placing a star on the chart whenever he acts independently. You can also have some modest treat associated with each star. That will raise the power of the reward. Praise alone won't take you too far.
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