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THE QUESTION

My seven-year-old daughter is a very happy girl but I feel she can be anxious. My wife has to rub her head every night until she falls asleep. If I am home with her she wants me to sit in the living room until she falls asleep. Before she falls asleep she will call out to me to make sure I am in the living room. Any thoughts or suggestions?

THE ANSWER

You sound like a loving dad and I hear your concern. There are two different things that could be going on.

It could be that your daughter wants to be sure that she is still connected to you. It is hard for our children to separate from us. We have the lucky distinction of still being their favourite people. Their connection with us and to us is what makes them feel safe and grounded. This is often why going to bed and getting out the door in the morning are such difficult transitions for children. They don’t want to be away from us. Bedtime can feel like a great chasm of separation. As long as your wife is rubbing her head, or she knows you are a room away, she feels that sense of connection.

The other possibility is that your daughter is experiencing physiological anxiety: Her amygdala, the fight-flight-freeze part of her brain that is responsible for keeping her safe, could be activated. Being alone in her room might feel like an emergency. Her amygdala may be sending the message, “Danger! Danger! You need mom to stay in the room with you! You need to be 100 per cent sure that dad is right outside your door! Otherwise, you won’t be safe!” The amygdala can’t tell the difference between a real emergency or a perceived one. It is like a smoke alarm that goes off whether you burn toast or there is a big fire in your kitchen. Her amygdala may be sensing a threat where there is none and sending out a 911 call.

Try not to worry. Seven is still very small and it’s okay that she still needs you.

Read the rest of my answer at The Globe and Mail

Have a question? Email me: sarah@sarahrosensweet.com

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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 14, 17, and 20). Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to, “We’ve got this!”

Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com

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