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Reality Check: Clingy at Parties

Q. Our kindergartner still wants us to stay with him at birthday parties, even when it's clearly a dropoff event. What can we do?

A.
With all the other kids happily separating from their parents ("Bye, Mom, see you later!") and marching right on in to have some fun, you can't help but think, "Why can't my child do this? What have I done wrong that he's not secure?" Out of this frustration, you may be tempted to try a sink-or-swim approach -- escorting your little boy through the door, then hightailing it back out to the parking lot.

Instead, consider this another in a series of childhood stages in which the solution involves weaning. Do it gradually, not only because it works best that way but also because, for goodness' sake, your son's still little.

The truth is, many of us feel a bit awkward walking into a party solo. My husband is over 40, and although he's quite happy to attend parties without his mother, he does want his wife to come along.

To provide some social security, try carpooling to parties with a friend of your child's so they can connect before he enters that scary room. Since he'll probably still want you there too, tell him that you understand how he feels and will stay until he's comfortable, but eventually you'll have to leave because this is a kid party, not a parent-and-kid party. Then start making incremental changes in your behavior.

At the next affair, stay but remain in the background; you could make yourself useful to the host parents and help with serving and cleaning up. (When you RSVP, explain your situation. They most likely won't mind your hanging around; they'll probably even welcome having an extra pair of hands.) If your child acts clingy, help him get engaged in whatever activity is going on, maybe sit him next to a good pal, then go read a magazine on the sidelines.

At each subsequent event, gradually decrease the amount of time you stay. If trouble crops up again along the weaning way, leave your son at the party but say you'll come back to pick him up early, then follow through with your promise. As he gets older, he'll get used to going to parties, yet he may never really like them -- not everyone is a party animal. Someday, when he's away at college, say, you may be glad he's not.

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