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Boys to Men

Mary Jo Rulnick, of Pittsburgh, happily walked her son Josh to school each day  -- until he hit the fifth grade and gave Rulnick her walking papers. "He wanted to go with friends his age, and I wasn't welcome," she says.

It can hurt, but it happens: As early as age 10  -- but especially by age 12  -- your little boy will start looking to other males for the advice, support, and attention he once craved from you, says Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence.

Don't take the distance personally. It's healthy for your son to test his independence as he becomes (sniffle!) a man. To deal with the separation anxiety  -- your own, that is:

Give your son his space. Support him without crowding him. "Your mere presence at events is still meaningful to you both," says Stepp. Just realize that he may want to hang with friends, not you, afterward.

Do something he'll enjoy. Watching his favorite movie or trying a new sport together will get him talking on his terms.

Let him come to you. Be available when he needs you, but don't force conversation. "Talk less and listen more," says Stepp. "Stand back and admire what he's learning to do on his own."