Dear Savvy Auntie,

I have an eight-year-old niece who is very clingy to me. After she was born we have always had a strong bond. She stays with me on the weekends and does not want to go home. I am a financial and an emotional caregiver for her. Her parents have issues and fight a lot and she does not get as much attention as her younger sister who is six. She has to talk to me every morning before school and every night before bedtime. She cries when she goes home.

I do not know what to do to keep her from having anxiety when she leaves me. Any suggestions?

Clingy Niece

Dear Clingy Niece,

Your niece is very lucky to have you play such an active role in her life!

I suggest you start to broaden your time with her to include friends and physical activities. Halloween is a perfect time to have her invite friends over to...bake cookies, try on funny make-up, construct costumes, and visit Halloween displays. In other words stretch her bond with you.

At her age, it is important to be a member of a sport team which is a good opportunity for socialization as well as beneficial to her inner strength and physical well being.

You can help her minimize her separation upset by practicing together-apart-together (TAT). For example, say to her: "Now you and I are having lunch together, then you can read, and I will do the dishes, then you and I will go outside together." Use this TAT-phrasing style in relation to any activity. After a few repetitions, when it is time for her to go home, use the recipe by highlighting what you are doing together, then she will leave, and you and she will talk later.

I also suggest that you find an activity, class, program, or hobby that creates an interest for yourself separate from your connection to her. Not only will this benefit you and your relationship, but also her as she uses you as a role model.

I hope this is helpful.
Good Luck,
Natalie Robinson Garfield

Photo: tirlik

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