Dear Dr. Bill,
My middle child is a 12-year-old girl named Audrey. Over the past few months she’s been dealing with separation anxiety — she doesn’t want me to leave the house without her. She says she misses me and that when we’re apart, she feels like I don't love her. Nothing has changed in our family life during this time, and our household seems “normal” with a great husband and three children. What should I do?
If it’s true that nothing has changed at home, then there is a possibility that something has changed in your daughter’s school environment or that she’s experienced some type of stressful event that you don’t know about.
The first thing to do is to talk your daughter about the changes in her behavior. You might say something like “Honey, lately I’ve noticed that it’s really hard for you to do things on your own or be apart from me. I’m wondering if you’ve been feeling scared or worried about something in your life.” If she says “no,” don’t push her, but reassure her that she can talk to you about anything at all, anytime.
Also, could it be that you aren’t actually spending enough time with her? If you work outside the home, have your hours increased? Have you or your daughter become so busy with activities outside the home that you spend very little time together?
If it’s simply a matter of clinginess, make sure to praise her when she acts independently or succeeds at doing things on her own. Even if she takes small steps in that direction, let her know that you’re proud of her for showing initiative and independence.
Also, schedule regular mother-daughter time with her. This should be one-on-one times, with no other family members present. It can be as simple as taking a walk together one day each week, reading a book together for 30 minutes on a weeknight evening, or a trip to the grocery store together.
If the problems persist, I would encourage you to consult with a family therapist. Thanks for writing, Stephanie. I’m Bill Maier for WBCL.