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My daughter is 4+ years old. We used to take her with us wherever we went until recently when we had a doctor's appointment around 10PM. We wanted her to stay home with her uncle because taking her out at that time didn't seem good for her. She usually goes to bed around 10 to 11 PM. Her uncle leaves with us and loves/cares her a lot. But surprisingly she was extemely reluctant to let us go without her. We offered her all those things she usually craves for, like unlimited cartoons, games and what not, but all this stuff got completely worthless compared to our companionship. (My daughter complains less when my mom comes to visit us.)

On that day we eventually managed to leave without her. But later we got to know that she cried a lot, also vomited. But after like half an hour she stopped crying and started watching cartoons. Today we again have a doctor's appointment around the same time and we have already informed her about this. She again seems so sad and is crying from time to time.

What I am confused about is,

  • Should I really listen to her and take with us wherever we go? Isn't she old enough to stay without us for a couple of hours?
  • Am I doing any harm to her by forcing her to stay back at home? Or is it good for her because she is learning how to handle such sadness?

It's really hard for us to see her in this state, so unless we are really doing a favor to her, I don't want to let her cry. So please suggest.

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    Perhaps put her to bed before this. A 4 year old really should be sound asleep by 10pm. How well does she know her uncle? What you've described is not surprising at all. This is very normal behaviour for a 4 year old. Your doctor makes appointments at 10pm? – user1751825 Mar 12 '16 at 14:13
  • Is there nobody else you can leave her with? Young children are often frightened of other adult men (other than their father). They usually are much more comfortable with female carers. – user1751825 Mar 12 '16 at 14:17
  • She usually goes to bed around 10 to 11 PM. Her uncle leaves with us and loves/cares her a lot. But good point is that my daughter complains less when my mom comes to visit us. So you mean this behaviour is completely normal and I should rather take her with us instead of making her so sad? Most of the time I dont have any other person than her uncle to leave her with. – Samiron Mar 12 '16 at 17:02
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    Are children naturally less comfortable with a familiar male caretaker? – Acire Mar 13 '16 at 0:17
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    @user1751825: In my experience, the gender of the caretaker does not usually matter for most children (though it may for some children). What matters most is whether the child knows the caretaker, and gets along with them. – sleske Mar 14 '16 at 9:59
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Your daughter sounds a lot like my older son. He's also four, and he's also very much attached to us. He won't do things that he considers fun - like gymnastics class, soccer, etc. - unless mommy or daddy is participating with him (not even hanging out nearby, we have to be next to him). He's a very independent child in every other way - and if you get him away from us, he acts extremely independently, like at pre-school.

I figure it comes from a few things. One is insecurity and abandonment issues with new things - as many children are. He does much better when he's familiar with the environment and familiar with the person. As such, we try to put him in positions where he will succeed. We give him a chance to meet teachers/etc. ahead of time. We take him to places before he's asked to separate from us. We spend a great deal of time prepping him for anything that will be significant. This works fairly well; but, he still has a day or two of significant difficulty as he adjusts to new things (30-60 minutes of difficulty). Us coming to pick him up on time every day is of course also a major plus.

The second issue is likely that he wants to have a lot of attention, and when we're not around he doesn't get it as much (of course!). He knows this, so he resists being put in situations where he won't get that attention. This has become less of a big deal as he ages - and we have a second younger child, so this also has undoubtedly helped and hurt both, but on balance helped.

The attention issue is more complicated to work with, but we've found that simply putting him in more situations where he doesn't have the high degree of attention - whether it be preschool, gymnastics class, etc. - seems to help to some degree. Giving him plenty of attention when he is around us is also good, in my opinion, as it helps keep him assured that he will get our attention when we can give it - but giving him lots of opportunities to learn that he can be successful without our attention is needed.

Letting him know that he can do things on his own, but not pushing too hard, has worked quite well there. For example, for the last six months or so, I've suggested that when he needs to go to the bathroom in a restaurant, and it's visible from the table, that he simply go. This was a silly suggestion six months ago, but I never pushed hard; simply letting him do it if he wants to. In the last few weeks, he's started to be willing to - not every time, but still, sometimes, particularly when it's in his interest to do so (like, when I was carrying his sleeping brother and couldn't leave the table last week).


In your particular situation, I would suggest a bit more familiarization with the uncle if that is a possible issue (if this isn't someone she already spends a reasonably large amount of time with), prepping her for the situation (letting her know all of the details a few different times in advance), and then... going. She may cry, she may have a hard time, but she'll also learn. Perhaps a few shows that discuss this sort of issue - there is a Daniel Tiger episode that's excellent, with the repeated song/phrase "Grown ups always come back", for example; many other shows cover similar issues.

You might also talk to the uncle, and make sure he is engaging her. A four year old does need engagement, perhaps not constantly, but periodically. Find something fun they can do together - maybe a game (there are lots of games that I find fun to play that my kids do also; games like Spot It or Memory for example, which is at least mildly challenging for the adult. Or if the uncle has a particular interest, perhaps he could teach her about that interest - anything is interesting to a four year old, be it historical interests, woodworking, fixing cars, whatever he is interested in.

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If your daughter is 4+ years old, she is quite old enough to have an opinion of her own (though it may not always be practical to follow it). So first, ask her why she is unhappy? Maybe it is something with her uncle; maybe she is not used to being without her parents; maybe something about the place scare her (no light in the bedroom or something like that). Could be a thousand things, so ask her. Do that in a private moment, when she is alert and in a good mood.

To address your questions:

Should I really listen her and take with us wherever we go? Isn't she older enough to stay without us for couple of hours?

No, you should not take her with you wherever you go - that would not be practical. What if you have an appointment where you are alone and child care is not available?

And yes, in general four years is plenty old enough to be without parents for a while. As a matter of fact, there is probably no minimum age - some children start daycare a few months after birth, and while there is some controversy about that, there is at least no clear evidence of any harm.

Am I doing any harm to her by forcing her to stay back in home? Or its good for her because she is learning how to handle such sadness?

That depends on circumstances. It is normal for children to complain, at least sometimes, when parents leave. But if the problems persist, and if she does not recover quickly after you are gone, there may be a problem.

Talk to your daughter, talk to your uncle (ideally both together and separately), then decide. Also, take note of whether the problems only occur with her uncle, or also with other people she stays with, that might tell you something (though it still may or may not be your uncle's fault).

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    We asked her a lot of times, but she cant really tell anything specific she is worrying about. When me and my wife is at home, we usually spend a lot of time with her. Ad hoc fun, gossip etc. But on our absence i think she finds the time really boring. That might be a reason. Thanks for your well organized reply. If there is any new findings i will share. – Samiron Mar 14 '16 at 10:28
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    @Samiron: Well, that's something you could work with. If she finds it boring, try to find something that makes it fun for her. Maybe you, her and her uncle can sit down together to find out what she can do with her uncle (or her uncle with her) to make it more fun for her. Playing with small children is something you can learn :-). – sleske Mar 14 '16 at 10:32

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