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Q: My eight-year-old daughter has been raised to be independent. She has gone with relatives and friends for weekends and week-long visits since she was two years old. She has always been given the option and never forced. This year she went away to church camp for a week and sobbed when she got home because she missed everyone so much. She then started crying every time we visit someone for a weekend or when she has to come home from vacation. The only thing that might be hard for her at home is that she has to share a room with one of her two baby sisters. She also cries at night and says she is scared of tornados. What can I do?
A: At age eight, a week at church camp is a long time to be away from home, even for a child who is used to being with relatives and friends. Even though the concept of being away is the same, camp is very different -- your daughter was with a large group of children and adults who she probably did not know well, sleeping in a cabin or tent with a large group, and staying outdoors more than she is probably accustomed. There may have been some storms while she was at camp or perhaps simply a discussion of storms and tornados.
Try to reassure your daughter that you have confidence in her as a "big girl" and that you know she can take care of herself. Let her know that you will always make sure she is safe. You may want to cut back on your trips away from home for awhile and let her gradually get used to being away for longer periods of time. Try to be patient with her as she goes through this time.
If your daughter's fears continue, talk with the school counselor. He may be able to give her some individual time or include her in a small group. If you decide that your daughter needs additional help outside school, the counselor or your pediatrician can refer you to a therapist in your community.
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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.