For years, my daughter and I had the same conversation when I picked her up from daycare. Once the seat belts were buckled and the car was in drive, my daughter would ask, "What are we doing tonight?" The answer might be, "Visiting Mimi and Papa." I could tell her that we were running to the store or the bank or the pharmacy. We could see any friend or family member in a 50 mile radius. The only unacceptable answer was, "We're going home."
Up until a few months ago, my daughter was a born social butterfly. She constantly wanted to be out and about, meeting people and running from place to place. This was the Brenna I knew and expected.
Then, something started to charge. Slowly but surely, my little girl stopped asking to visit her cousins or have dinner with her grandparents. She didn't want to run errand with me, even if there was a chance of picking out a piece of candy in the check-out lane or getting a sticker from the bank-teller. More and more, all my daughter wanted was to stay home.
Now, our after-school conversations sound a little different. "Mom, do we have to go anywhere?" she'll ask me as we drive home. It almost never matters what the activity is. If I say we're going anywhere other than home, my little girl isn't happy. She doesn't throw too much of a fit if we invite friends to our house. But more than anything, my once-social little girl's favorite activity is a night at home with her Momma playing with toys and reading books. She wants absolutely nothing else. Even birthday parties are just time away from the house, and she doesn't care for them.
After months of this antisocial behavior, I started to get a little concerned about my daughter's stay-at-home tendency. If I convinced her to go out with me, she always had a good time. She still played with her cousins and friends when they were together. I didn't want to blow the whole thing out of proportion, but I didn't understand the cause for the change in attitude.
First, I went to my normal resources. I asked my mom, my sister, my friends. Do kids just go through a homebody stage that I never knew about? Is this kind of antisocial behavior something that comes and goes, something to worry about?
While clinginess is something that many kids go through, it normally happens a little earlier in the developmental phases. Brenna just had her fifth birthday and she's been attending school and/or daycare since infancy. More than that, friends told me that their kids were attached to them, not to their homes. As long as they were with their parents, their little ones were alright.
Finally, I decided to speak with a specialist to find out just how serious our homebody behavior might be. Child psychologist Amy Rupp offered me some advice on how to handle my daughter's new behavior, and when to start worrying. "Kids do go through phases, some at different times and for different reasons. In general, wanting to stay home more often shouldn't be a huge concern." At the same time, the change in behavior could be an indicator of a bigger problem and my husband and I needed to pay attention.
"In general, anxiety in social situations or a fear of leaving the home normally stems from some sort of insecurity. There are all kinds of events that can cause insecurity, but the important part is to try to make your daughter feel as loved, secure, and confident as you can," she told me.
Looking back at the events of the last couple months, there are have plenty of stressful situations that could have added some fear and uncertainty into my daughter's life. She had to cope with the death of a beloved grandparent. We've been helping to care for a family member whose parents are going through a difficult time. We found out that we won't be having another child. Take your pick. We've had some stuff going on.
The idea that my daughter wants to be stay home because she's somehow insecure about her life or her place in the world breaks my heart a little. It makes me want to hug her tighter, read one more book, and make sure that she knows exactly how loved she is. It also makes me really eager for the day when she gets in the car and says, "Mom, can we go to Mimi and Papa's tonight?" It's not that I mind spending my nights cuddled up on the toy room floor. It's that I want my daughter to feel confident and secure enough to step back out of the house without a bit of hesitation.
Fingers crossed, I'll get my social butterfly back soon. Until then, sorry for the cancelled playdates. We're just going to be hanging out at home for a while.