(I wasn't sure which subcategory to put this question in, so please bear with me if it's not quite appropriate for this section!)
After the birth of his new brother October 2010, his parents' divorce last May, and Dad moving out of the country last July, my son (who just turned 4 last October) has gone through quite a rough readjustment phase this past year, poor guy. I've done my best to maintain a strong connection with him, but... he's hard to read. His verbal development is behind the curve, so I'm not always sure he understands what I say, nor that I understand what he says. That's the biggest challenge of dealing with these emotional storms of his: we can't talk about them in-depth!
I'll start by saying how grateful I am for the progress he has made! For a few months there, he was having several huge meltdowns per day, pooping his pants, the works. That has gone away, and for the past couple of months I've been feeling, hey, he's in a good groove, emotionally. But this past week I've seen an increase in tantrums/meltdowns/weeping sessions, which seem to be triggered by "nothing."
Also, he is clingier than normal. He's been shy and clingy his whole life, but this is even more than normal. He won't leave my side in the living room to go to the adjoining bathroom, for example, without great reluctance and begging me to go with him. He tells me, "I'm scared" quite a lot. He's scared of the smoke detectors, he's scared to leave me for anything, he's scared to talk with his grandpa on the online video chat.
He has fits of deciding he "can't" do certain things he normally can, such as putting on his coat or shoes, or feeding himself, and he wants me to do them instead. I want to help him through this rough time, but I also want to empower him to be as independent as developmentally appropriate. I have been refusing to spoonfeed him when he asks the past few days, because he can do that himself. But I try to remember there's probably a greater need behind this behavior, and I assume he just wants some love and security? So instead I hold him and let him sit in my lap with the food in front of him, with the idea that if he felt more secure, he would pick up his spoon or fork and feed himself like normal. But he, like I, has a very strong stubborn streak, and once he gets something in his head, it's very hard to dissuade him. So if he has gotten it in his head that I am supposed to feed him tonight, he won't give up. I'm not sure I made the right choice, but last night I was only able to convince/bribe/beg him to eat half his plate, then after 2 hours I gave up..., and he went to bed hungry.
Again, considering where we were half a year ago, I'm proud of my little guy. I'm not sure what to do about this recent backwards movement, though.
I'm not really sure how to address this behavior. I try to give him lots of hugs and kisses and saying "I love you", etc., but that's the stuff I do normally anyway. Any ideas?
It sounds like you are doing a great job and doing your best! I wonder if he associates going somewhere alone with the loss of his father? Can you think of any event related to him leaving where your son was by himself? Maybe he thinks being without you, he will lose you too. His father wasn't around as much, and then he never came back. Maybe he thinks that if he lets you out of his sight, you will disappear too? You'll know whether that might resonate, and if it might, you could "guess" at his feelings and see how he reacts.
My 4 year old also has some moments when he wants me to feed him -- I bet you are feeding the baby, aren't you? He sees that and thinks he wants the same attention. My son is doing the same thing (also 4, with 15 month old brother). I totally give in when he wants me to feed him -- sometimes even after 2 spoonfuls he'll take over. My DS does still want to pretend he's a baby, and I try to let him but with minimal positive feedback, and try to give more attention when he acts like a boy.
It sounds like a really rough time. I think if you have some frank discussions with him, give him a lot of reassurance that you are always there and will always be with him, and give in a little, he will get through it. I feel like sometimes they need a little babying, even if they can do it independently, and that's okay.
DS1 (6) , DS2 (3) , DD is here!