A good friend of mine, Jessica, adopted a child from China about ten years ago. When Jessica’s daughter was around four, she exhibited a lot of anxiety whenever Jessica left the house. Jessica would want to pop out for a trip to the grocery store, coffee with her friends, or even a date with her husband, and her daughter would go into a rage, screaming and clinging to her mother, begging her not to leave her. Jessica had two other children, neither of whom exhibited this behavior, and she was perplexed as to why her daughter would feel so insecure. And why she would do it now when she hadn’t been that way as an infant or toddler.
She told me about the conversations she had with her daughter, repeatedly telling her that she was going to come back and that she shouldn’t worry, but no amount of talking would change the behavior, her daughter still cried and still clung. The situation had become so unbearable with Jessica becoming a virtual slave to her daughter’s anxiety, either refusing to leave the house without her daughter, or sneaking out while she was distracted, or waiting until she was asleep. None of the solutions was ideal and Jessica knew that she was just putting off dealing with the problem that she now saw spreading to her other, younger children, who started to exhibit similar behaviors.
Being the intelligent woman that she is, Jessica decided to solve the problem by giving her daughter things that she valued. One day, before a trip to the mailbox to retrieve the mail (a trip that would take less than five minutes) she approached her daughter and told her how upset she knew she became when mommy left, but this time, Jessica was going to give her daughter something she knew that Jessica valued. She gave her daughter her wedding ring. She said, “I love my wedding ring, right?” Her daughter nodded. And she said, “I would not ever want to lose my wedding ring, would I?” And her daughter shook her head. Jessica then asked her daughter is she would watch it while she ran outside to get the mail.
The strategy worked. Her daughter clutched the ring as Jessica went to the mailbox, and gradually Jessica would leave for longer periods until she could be gone for the entire evening. Sometimes she would change up the routine, leaving her driver’s license or another valuable thing, and gradually her daughter came to understand that her mother was not abandoning her.
I thought this was a wonderful strategy–and it might work for others whose kids exhibit similar behaviors.