Q: My 1 yr old son cries/screams whenever my boyfriend tries to play with or even touch him. It's gone on for months now. We are at a loss for what to do, and fear it will come between our relationship if we can't fix his attitude towards him. We are talking marriage. My son will also cry if I leave his sight or the room... it does not matter where we are. We need help desperately.
A: Dear Beyondbaskets1:
The good news is that your son's behavior, often called "stranger anxiety," is common and normal. Many children between the ages of around 8 months to two years of age display fear and distrust whenever anyone approaches who isn't the child's mother or mother-substitute. It is not really a statement about the other person--it is a statement about Mom. Only Mom is OK. The child in this phase of growth goes to pieces when mother turns away or goes out of the child's reach.
The bad news is that you can't do anything about this, except try to live with it until the child's development moves ahead with time. The more you try to pull away, the more panic your son will feel. Everything that you can do which reassures your son that you are "right here" will help him in the long run. Of course, you can't go to absurd lengths to be present every second--but new faces, weekends with the baby-sitter, and other ordinary separations are likely to stir up his frantic fears of abandonment. So the more consistency you can provide, the sooner your son will outgrow his anxieties. Time will fix this.
You must reassure your boyfriend that your son's reaction is not about him at all, but a developmental phase that many children pass through. Once your son is a bit older, he will be very happy to play with your boyfriend and form a deep attachment to him. If you and your boyfriend are speaking of marriage, then the long-term big picture is what counts. Tell your boyfriend that your son will welcome him with open arms once he out-grows this troublesome but normal phase of panic when Mom leaves the room.
Elizabeth Berger MD
Child Psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"