THE BLOG
12/27/2016 05:28 pm ET Updated Dec 28, 2017

'Is My 6 Year Old Anxiously Attached?'

Reader Anxious Mama writes,

I am worried about my 6-year-old daughter. She is a very emotional girl and has been since birth. From what I read she would be considered a "high needs" baby. She had colic way past the first year and was always clingy and uncomfortable with new and sometimes not new people. She was/is very attached to me and my Mom (who watched her part time in that first year). She loves her Dad as well and her neediness has tapered a bit as she has gotten older, along with being more comfortable around new people/places. She is an over achiever and gets SUPER upset if she does something wrong or something she perceives to be "bad."

None of this sounds terrible, I know, but what concerns me is she seems to have a negative outlook on pretty much life in general. I have read your article about trying to guide them with questions to put them in the positive mindset and that works sometimes. Recently she has started saying "I feel alone even when I am with you" or "I don't want you to leave because I will miss you," mostly at bed time. She has been waking up randomly in the night to come in and tell me she misses me. I put her back in bed and she is fine, goes right back to sleep. She tells me she loves me at least 20 times a day and thinks I am the best Mommy in the whole wide world. She feels like she has to pee ALL THE TIME, and I have learned this can be a control thing, as there is nothing medically wrong with her.

I am recently divorced, just over a year, and it was probably the most uneventful divorce ever with the exception of him moving out and buying a new house. We did our best to make it flow with no drama, and the kids, although they missed each of us when the other wasn't around, appeared to be ok. So my question, after all this, should I be concerned about her statements about feeling alone all the time? It has been going on for a while, and she gets past it, but I am concerned about depression.

After reading about attachment theory, I am really concerned as she sounds like the ambivalent type,which I really don't understand! I breast fed, baby wore and was the general all around super mom (her being the first and only at the time) but when she started day care at one, the ambivalence was her response. Can this be changed? How can I help her? Thanks so much in advance.

Dear AM,

She doesn't sound like she has anxious attachment; if that were the case, she would be ambivalent about you.  She would cling but also push you away and be rude or withhold her affection.  Your daughter sounds like she is anxious and has a high need for closeness and reassurance, and is possibly an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person).  Her natural anxiety is likely even more severe in the wake of the divorce, which, as you can read about in my book How To Talk To Your Kids About My Divorce (which is actually free now if you have Amazon Prime), is usually more stressful on kids than adults realize and hope.

Overall, I believe that you're dealing with a kid who is wired to be more anxious and have a higher need for reassurance, who just went through a stressor, and who models herself on the Mommy that she loves, who can be a perfectionistic, "super mom" type.  So it is no great surprise that she is more perfectionistic and stressed out lately.

I encourage you to chill out and stop reading parenting advice for a little while.  Instead, try to focus on yourself for a bit.  If you yourself are perfectionistic, then your kid is going to watch that and imitate it.  Cut yourself more slack.  Show her what self-compassion looks like.  Don't criticize yourself, and laugh about any mistakes you make.  Talk with her about mistakes you made when you were little, or, even better, mistakes you currently make as an adult, and how nothing ended up being as bad as you feared.  Secretly tell her that schoolwork doesn't matter as much as she may think it does, because Einstein failed math, or whatever that story is.

Additionally, I strongly encourage you to get your child to a nice therapist who can work with her on CBT techniques to reduce anxiety, and behavioral ways to deal with the need to pee thing.  I, and probably every other adult who was an anxious kid, wish that someone had started me in therapy when I was constantly worrying and ruminating as a six year old.  There is no shame in taking your kid to therapy, not for you, and not for them.  It is much the opposite, showing that you care enough about your kid to try anything to help them feel better, and that you are confident enough to know that your kid's anxiety doesn't mean that you're a bad mom.  Smart, anxious little kids usually do awesome in therapy, incidentally.  They become super experts on deep breathing techniques and reframing, putting their perfectionism to good use.  In your child's case, the therapist can also feel out whether there are some unresolved issues surrounding the divorce.  Win win.

Thanks for writing in, and keep me updated.  Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Not Everyone Who's Anxious Is Anxiously Attached, Although More And More Moms Seem To Worry About This Now.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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