Dear Diana: I have a 5-year-old daughter with some speech and mild developmental delays, as well as an extreme immune deficiency where she becomes very ill, very often. She is finally getting comfortable with our regular trips to the hospital whenever she gets sick. My concern is that, wherever we are, she has total screaming temper tantrum if I leave her. She has anxiety over rain and lightning, she won’t go down a slide, she is afraid of bugs, and the list goes on. Family members and even some of her doctors have told me I have caused her anxiety because I am so overprotective. How can I help her work through this? Protective Mom

Dear Diana: I have a 5-year-old daughter with some speech and mild developmental delays, as well as an extreme immune deficiency where she becomes very ill, very often. She is finally getting comfortable with our regular trips to the hospital whenever she gets sick. My concern is that, wherever we are, she has total screaming temper tantrum if I leave her. She has anxiety over rain and lightning, she won’t go down a slide, she is afraid of bugs, and the list goes on. Family members and even some of her doctors have told me I have caused her anxiety because I am so overprotective. How can I help her work through this? Protective Mom

Dear Protective Mom: Watching your child slip into constant illness must be extremely difficult. Much of her medical fragility is out of your hands, and in the hands of her doctors, which probably leaves you feeling somewhat helpless as her mom. You are her protector, you are her guardian, and you are her advocate. She needs your vigilance. If others say you are overprotective, perhaps it is their way of suggesting you take a step back during the times when she is strong enough, and allow her to do more things independently, or to expose her to some new experiences.

Bugs, slides and lightning!

Your response and thoughtful, continuous, gentle exposure can be helpful to diminish fears for things which are a part of life. For instance, if you see lightning, instead of becoming tense in anticipation of her fear, wrap it around a story. Tell her that lightning reminds you of summertime fireworks, and suggest that if she looks closely, she might see different colors and shapes in the lightning. We can remove some of the fright from frightening things, just by normalizing it when it happens. Show her a ladybug on a leaf and show her how to blow it away, while repeating the “Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home” rhyme. When you take her to the park, don’t even suggest she go on the slide, but remark at the little boy in blue who just climbed up and slid down into his mother’s arms. Help her to be a part of things without having her become part of them. If she can connect, she will be more comfortable. If her fears continue to affect her everyday life at a heightened level, you might consider contacting a mental health provider to help her work through those anxieties.

Don’t leave me!

Right now, if you leave her side, your daughter becomes anxious, so turn the tables. Your daughter may be very responsive when you request that she accompany you throughout the day. When you need to leave the room to get the laundry, suggest she come to help. When you go to the kitchen for a glass of water, ask her if she wants to come with you. Invite her and include her, rather than tell her she’ll be OK without you. Telling her that there is no reason to be afraid — or not to get stressed out — isn’t changing her behavior or diminishing her anxiety. When she begins to feel secure that you won’t leave her, she may feel less anxious. Invite her to help you prepare dinner, when she is engaged in an activity. She may be annoyed that you want to be with her when she is already busy with something else. Just continue to invite her in a pleasant, loving voice, and allow her to choose when she wants to be with you and when she is ready to be independent.

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator. Send her your child-rearing questions via FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702. Find additional parenting resources at her website, www.yourperfectchild.com.