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Ask an Expert: A son struggling with dad's deployment.

Q. My son is 11 and suffers from separation anxiety due to my husband’s numerous deployments in Afghanistan. Things are better when my husband is home, but my son still won’t sleep over at friends’ houses. Now, friends have quit asking him to sleep over, although they will come to our house. It is so heart-breaking and I don’t know how to solve this issue. – Melissa

A. It is so hard as a parent to see your own child face difficulties with friends. First, it is great that he has friends coming over to your house! I would definitely continue to invite friends over. That may eventually lead to an invitation for him.

As for helping him work through his anxiety at going to a sleepover, here are a few ideas:

  • Try a sleepover with friends Do you have trusted friends or family nearby? I would begin by talking with them and seeing if they would be willing to have your son come over for a night—even if they do not have children his age. You would be able to address your concerns and create a plan if he is not able to stay the night. Also, he would be with people he knows well, so that may help alleviate some of his anxiety. And, with close friends or family he would not have to explain wanting to call home at midnight or face embarrassment if he was unable to stay the night. This might be a way to start sleepovers so that he has some success. If you don’t have close friends or family in the area, do you have connections with other military families? You may have to reach out and ask, but military families generally are very supportive of one another and they will likely understand your son’s feelings of anxiety.
  • Attempt a real sleepover Once he has had a few successful sleepovers with close friends or family, I would start thinking about arranging a sleepover at a friend’s house. Are you friends with any of the other parents? If so, I would be very honest with them about hoping that your son might be invited to a sleepover. I would share with them that he has had anxiety in the past, but is working on it. And, then see if you might be able to arrange something that way. Again, you will likely need to reach out, but a friend would likely be willing to help you. You may be more willing to reach out to someone if you really needed help—so think about your upcoming schedules. Is there an evening where you might need help? If so, ask about having them take your son for the evening and spending the night. You can certainly reciprocate by having their child over to your house at a later date.

Sometimes as parents we have to step outside of our comfort zones. You may have to reach out and ask for help from trusted family and friends!

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