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Our 2-year-old child just started preschool and is attaching to other kids' parents. Stuff like: Wants to hold the other parent's hand, but not ours; gives the other parent a hug at pick-up from preschool, but not us; following around other parents at the park, keeping distance from us. If the other parent in question is present but unavailable (hands full, paying attention to their own child, talking with the preschool staff), our child melts down.

Generally the other kids' parents involved are also at the preschool, and usually good family friends. So avoiding other parents entirely is not an option.

We're feeling like our child prefers other parents -- sometimes, any other parents -- to us.

How do we address this behavior? (What is a good term for this behavior?)

  • Is preschool a new thing for him, or was it already part of his routine for a long while? Sometimes kids ignore you upon meeting because they're angry for being 'abandoned'. And sometimes this anger carries on for a while. – Ana Sep 14 '16 at 9:18
  • Preschool just started yesterday (the day that I posted this question). The behavior started a few days earlier. – Codes with Hammer Sep 14 '16 at 12:41
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The term is "disorganized attachment". It's not a good sign.

Your child is trying to build a secure spot to make sense of the world. What typically triggers this sort of avoidance of one's own parents is the lack of needs being met. When your child cries, do you respond to them or are you practicing the stoic method of letting them cry it out? Somehow, your kid doesn't think that you will meet their emotional needs and is desperately reaching out to others to meet those needs. There is an article here: http://www.psychalive.org/disorganized-attachment/ that describes disorganized attachment at current knowledge levels. There is a paragraph in that article that is key:

Disorganized attachment arises from fright without solutions. Parents can frighten their children in different, often unconscious, ways. It might be through abuse or neglect, but it could also be through unresolved trauma and loss in the parent’s own life that leaves him or her feeling afraid, which unintentionally scares the child.

I suspect that something has happened in your lives that left you feeling at a loss and highly depressed at some point in the recent past. Your child picked up on it, and felt frightened. Once a kid feels frightened, they tend to avoid what caused them fear. When it's a parent, they short circuit and you see odd behaviors like refusing to go near a parent. (Note that my quote highlights that other things besides abuse can trigger these reactions.)

The good news is that this is very fixable. I would HIGHLY recommend getting in to see a family counselor/therapist as soon as possible. A good therapist can teach both parents ways to reach out to a child and regain that lost trust. IT MUST BE DONE SOON or you'll be facing deep issues.

I would not cut off the other family. They're a secure base right now. Instead, work to regain that secure base in your own family and the child will wean away from that sort of desperate need of the other parents. Plus, they'll have both secure bases which is a major win.

  • Very interesting, ScotT. We'll look into disorganized attachment. As for your question on how we respond to crying, we aim to use cry it out only for extended bedtime (when we hit the point where our snuggling our child is providing too much attention for the child to sleep) or major tantrums / meltdowns. – Codes with Hammer Sep 14 '16 at 12:45
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    It may not be something you are doing consciously. If the child sees facial expressions that trigger fear responses (like a parent seeming fearful or making strange faces that the infant can't understand) then the primate fear response is triggered. Normally that would force the child to the parent's side, but if it is the parent that is frightening them they freeze and can't figure out what to do. We had some similar issues with our own daughter around 18 mon of age. A good therapist showed us techniques to manage it. Our kid is fine and securely attached now. – ScotT Sep 14 '16 at 23:42
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It was primarily a phase. After my DLO got used to preschool, the disorganized attachment went away.

But correlation does not prove causation, nor does post hoc prove proctor hoc. So I'm leaving the question open at this time.

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