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Question: My son is three-years-old and we have a great relationship. However, his mother and I are divorced and every time I go to pick him up he runs around and sort of avoids me. It’s seems more like a game than anything else. I say that because once I chase him down and get him, we go off together – no tears, everything is great. But then, when I drop him off, he runs away without saying goodbye. For me his behavior is somewhat disturbing, how mother though has said that all this means he really doesn’t want to be with me. Other than pick-up and drop-off everything is truly fine between us. Shouldn’t my ex-wife try to help instead of doing nothing and complaining?

Answer: Taking you at your word that there is no further issue and that your son is not genuinely unhappy to see you or thrilled to leave you, it seems that you have something of a training issue. This is one of those divorce-related issues that commonly gets out of hand quickly. If his parents were married, they would demand he give each parent a kiss hello or goodbye as a greeting. The obvious support of both parents creates a simple, easy resolution to training a child to properly greet others.

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After a divorce, there are these sad differences that cause further rifts between parents. Your ex probably feels it’s not her job to deal with this or, worse, that she’d be covering up real issues which are occurring between you and your son. It would be ideal if she’d help and the two of you could stand firm together and teach this simple well-mannered behavior. In fact, the behavior could be brought on by conversations she’s having around your son in anticipation of your time together. In subtle ways she could be making your son anxious. She could be saying things like, “Everything will be okay with Daddy and I’ll be right here when you get back waiting, don’t worry.” This sort of sentence contains underlying negative messages that little kids feel and interpret without even realizing it.

However, there is nothing in the scenario you’ve described that would suggest that mom is fueling this behavior – and it may be time to reduce your dependence on her doing the job of parenting. It’s not her job any more than it’s yours to care for this situation. In reality, distancing herself from this may help you learn to be a more complete parent and feel confident to manage these types of situations.

A simple solution would be to teach your child a secret handshake and greeting that you practice with him. The secret handshake can include a ritualistic kiss and hug as well. This way, through fun and love, you’ll get your son in the habit of running to you to be involved in the “secret” greeting.

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M. Gary Neuman will be speaking at Kosherica's PGA Resort this Pesach. He is a licensed psychotherapist, rabbi, and New York Times best-selling author. Sign up for his free online newsletter at NeumanMethod.com.
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