Clinginess in 8 year olds

My darling son and me
My darling son and me

“Mom? Mom?!?” my 8 year old son called from downstairs.

“I’m right here,” I called from my computer.

“Ok,” he said.

It was his usual check in. He just needed to make sure that I was still in the house and hadn’t snuck off and abandoned him. And in 10 minutes, he would do it again.

Why the sudden worry? I’m not sure. I’ve heard it’s a phase that kids go through around 7 or 8. I don’t think I ever remember my daughter going through this, but she has always been incredibly independent. But other moms I’ve talked to have been able to commiserate their sudden lack of freedom due to a clingy kid. One mom told me how her son makes her hold his hand while she’s driving and he’s in the backseat. She is forced to drive with one hand on the wheel and the other stretched all the way behind her just so that he is assured.

It’s weird how sudden this all happened. It started out that my son could not be on the 2nd floor of the house without someone else with him. I chalked it up to just regular kid fear, like fear of ghosts or lurking monsters. I forced his sister to keep her mouth shut every time she had some snarky remark about his fears, and I accompanied him upstairs whenever he needed to be up there. It was all normal enough.

But then came the fear about sleeping over at someone else’s house. He stayed at one of his best friend’s houses for a sleepover, and got so nervous that he got physically ill all over the carpet, his sleeping bag, his PJs….. I had to pick him up at midnight that night and bring him home. The experience just made things worse. He now refuses to spend the night anywhere else away from home, except for his dad’s house. He wouldn’t even spend the night at his friend’s house right next door.

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Speaking of his dad’s house, he has suddenly started to include that in his fears about spending the night away. His fears now are that if he is away from me, something bad will happen to me, and he will never see me again. Or he’s afraid that I will drop him off and never pick him up again. He works himself up into such a fit that he gets a stomach ache, and starts crying. I have allowed him to stay home with me on occasion instead of going to his dad’s. But this last weekend I put my foot down and made coaxed him to go. It’s a Catch-22. I don’t want him to feel like he can’t make the choice about whose house he stays at by forcing him to go. But I also don’t want his fears to be fed so that he can’t learn to conquer them. And let’s get real, I need the break every now and then to regroup, just as much as he needs to be spending time with his father. Now when he stays with his dad, he will call me up to 7 times over 36 hours.

Does anyone else have a suddenly clingy child? How do you handle this?

Sometimes clinginess is a symptom of something bigger – Separation Anxiety Disorder.  I found a site that had more to say on this subject:

Who is affected by separation anxiety disorder?

All children and adolescents experience some anxiety. It is a normal part of growing up. However, when worries and fears are developmentally inappropriate concerning separation from home or family, separation anxiety disorder may be present. Reports indicate that SAD occurs equally in males and females. The first symptoms of SAD usually appear around the third or fourth grade. Typically, the onset of symptoms occurs following a break from school such as Christmas holidays or an extended illness. It is estimated that about 4 percent of younger children have SAD, while the estimate for adolescents is slightly lower. Children of parents with an anxiety disorder are more likely to have an anxiety disorder.

What are the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder?

The following are the most common signs of SAD. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • refusal to sleep alone
  • repeated nightmares with a theme of separation
  • excessive distress when separation from home or family occurs or is anticipated
  • excessive worry about the safety of a family member
  • excessive worry about getting lost from family
  • refusing to go to school
  • fearful and reluctant to be alone
  • frequent stomach aches, headaches, or other physical complaints
  • muscle aches or tension
  • excessive worry about safety of self 
  • excessive worry about or when sleeping away from home
  • excessive “clinginess,” even when at home
  • symptoms of panic and/or temper tantrums at times of separation from parents or caregivers

The symptoms of separation anxiety disorder may resemble other conditions or psychiatric problems. Always consult your child’s physician for a diagnosis.*

*quoted from University of Virginia Health System

Are any other moms experiencing a sudden clingy change in their kids of this age? Join the discussion on SantaRosaMom.com.

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11 thoughts on “Clinginess in 8 year olds”

  1. My cousin who is a 7 year old boy is also experiencing SAD. He’s parents separated 1 year ago and after that, he begins to act differently. He doesn’t want to be away from home. He always wants his mom to be by his side most specially when sleeping. He always have headache and stomachache. I think his mom should consult a doctor about this.

  2. I had this exact problem when I was a kid. Identical. I was never able to explain it at the time.

    My Dad would come to pick my brother and I up for the weekend and I’d lock myself in the nearest bathroom.

    Now I realize how severely I had separation anxiety. And being a parent now, I can only imagine how bad that felt to my Dad.

  3. My 8yo daughter is going thru this at the moment.
    Word for word the same. She is worried that something will happen to me. She worries about death and dying.
    My ex and I separated in May this year and up until now she hadn’t shown a hint of anxiety about it but the poor little mite must have been bottling it up inside.
    I am taking her to the GP tomorrow for a referral to a child Psych. Definitely needs to be nipped in the bud.
    Good luck to all the other mummys out there dealing with this.
    It’s awful to watch your child upset.

  4. My 8 year old daughter seems to be going through this. There was no event that seemed to have caused it aside from turning 8. She refuses to go to her dad’s house, and hasn’t been able to have a sleep over. She has tantrums about going to her father’s a week in advance. She constantly asks to sleep in my bed. She cant be on the second floor of the house without someone else being there unless she is somehow preoccupied. It’s hard to help her cope because I feel suffocated. I’d love to hear some advice.

  5. my boyfriend has been divorced from his ex-wife for over 2 years. he has a 5 yr old daughter and 7 yr old son. we have been living together for 1 1/2 years and the last few months, his son has been very clingy. if his father goes to the bathroom or steps outside to have a smoke or talk to a neighbor his son starts yelling for his father and looking for him. he seems relieved when his dad returns. now, when his father and i hug, he gets between us and pushes us apart, he has hit my hands to keep me away from his dad, locked me out of the house, etc. i try to stay away from his dad while he is here, but that is pretty ridiculous we both think. what do we do to reassure this kid that I will not ever take his place?? his father plays games with him, tells him he loves him constantly, even had a talk with him that his mother and him will never get together again but they will always both love him, AHHHH!!!

  6. This boy has probably come to the real realization that you and his father are creating a life together, forever. And that most likely makes him wonder how he will fit into the picture. He might feel like his father could end up choosing you over him, and that is a scary place to be! If I were you, I would see about doing some one on one things with the boy, focusing a lot of your attention on him so that he has the opportunity to get to know you more as a person rather than just his dad’s girlfriend. Second, I’d start doing more things where all of you are involved, but the activity is more at his level – like a family game night, or something where you and his dad wouldn’t be pairing up and leave him to feel left out. Don’t get me wrong, you aren’t doing anything bad right now. But at 7 years old, he is not only going through a natural clingy stage, he is dealing with finding himself in a family that is changing.

  7. Ladies there is nothing ‘natural’ about divorce. As an older female with adult children who are now able to verbalize their true feelings I can tell you, we expect too much of the little ones

    I was surprised at how long you took to mention you were divorced. As if it is not a factor when it is ‘the main’ factor Think of what you would do if another woman just moved in and started acting like your husbands wife. That is how is it with kids because there are no words to make them comprehend what is going on.

    So refraining from intimacy in front of his kids is the least you can do!
    Signed,
    Experienced Divorced mom

  8. So my child is not the only one!!! I am really worried about my 9 year old son who is increasingly becoming clingy, he experiences all the same symptoms as mentioned, but his father and I are still together. We both love him very much and want the best for him but I am tearing my hair out, what is the answer? He has just returned to school after the summer holidays and I have a new job which takes me out on a night for a few hours twice a week, should I give this up, but that feels like I am pandering to his needs, has anyone successfully overcome this and have any advice?

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