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The Family Project: Hide and seek

Q. My five-year-old son likes to play hide and seek, but it has started to become a problem because he will hide without telling me, whether at home or at the store. I become frantic trying to find him. He doesn’t always answer me when I call him, and I become afraid that he has gotten lost or that someone has taken him. When I do find him, he just laughs. I can’t get him to stop. What should I do: Put a leash on him when we go out?

“Hiding from mom is a game. Everything to a five-year-old is a game because that is how they learn,” panelist Mike Daniels said. “He has found a game he loves, and he is getting a reaction, so it is going to continue.”

Daniels suggested teaching her son a variation on the game, making hide and seek only to be played at home.

“When the mother goes out, before she goes into a store or a friend’s house she should ask the child if this a place where we play hide and seek. If he says ‘no,’ give him a hug and maybe a piece of candy as a reward.”

Daniels noted, however, that during the learning process, the mother can expect her son to slip up along the way. “The key is for mom not to overreact.”

Creating a new game entirely was an idea presented by panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo. Her suggestions included having the boy help mom find items nearby in the store, watch for and point out things they eat at home or look with her for something he can buy under a certain amount of money as a reward for not hiding.

If the boy is bored or wants mom’s attention that may be why he hides, Mercado-Arroyo said, adding, “So make it [the new game] fun for him.”

Panelist Pam Wallace emphasized that the mother needs to be “in the moment” whenever she and her son are away from home.

“She needs to be constantly connected to him. If she is looking at something, she should take the boy’s hand.” The panelists agreed that the son’s hiding was not the mother’s fault, but since the problem keeps occurring, she needs to become more vigilant and aware of the boy’s presence.

As for using leashes or a harness, Wallace said physical restraints should be a last resort. Daniels added that the goal of parenting is to teach self-discipline and self-control. “Leashes provide external control, and the five-year-old will try to break loose every time.”

Finally, the panel agreed that if the hiding continues, it might be better to leave boy with someone when the mother goes out. In addition to avoiding risks, being left at home could be a motivation for the boy to stop his risky behavior.

This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS, and Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, educator and former school administrator.

Have a question? Email: projectchild@projectchildlv.org.

The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.