Q: My 4 year old son suddenly developed an attachment to a stuffed animal. He has never been attached to anything before. Is this normal or is this his was of telling me something is bothering him? He latches on to this toy and won't let it go. He has never even cuddled with a blanket before. Is this normal or are there some underlying issues to be addressed?
A: Oh how I wish I could observe your child! But since I can't you need to be your own eyes. Children's behaviors -- especially new ones -- are often their way of telling us something is troubling them. (But then again, it could only be a phase). So moms have to be detectives. Keys to look for:
1. A sudden, unexplained change that lasts (usually every day for at least a week).
2. A spill over to another area. In addition to clinging to the toy he's also retreating from his friends or the teacher has noticed a change.
3. A change in his behavior (more clingy, withdrawn, agitated, moody, aggressive or whatever) that isn't typical for your child
4. A physical change - in addition, you notice a change in his eating or sleeping or an illness
5. A loss of joy for no reason
6. A teacher, relative, babysitter or someone else who knows your child well notices the proble
7. Your gut instinct tells you something is not right.
Be concerned if you notice a few of these trends...sometimes even one trend. If you continue to be concerned, seek the help of a trained mental health provider or talk to your pediatrician.
Start charting the behavior or what you see without him knowing that you're doing so. Do you see a pattern? Think back to the time he first started doing this behavior. Was there anything that could have triggered it? A trauma, a change, a deployment, a relatives illness? Have you asked the stuffed animal to talk to you? (Seriously). "My little boy seems (sad...or scared.. or worried). Do you know why? Can you tell me what he needs? Do you think he needs a hug?" Try it.
Of course, by now things may be back to normal. I hope so. Children are so glorious and have so much going on inside. We can learn so much from them!