Member question: So we had to leave a fun evening event with E screaming because we bought her a cool light-up sword, she loved it, it quickly broke (partially because it was cheap and partially because she was banging it into things), and my husband exchanged it without asking her. She was attached to the original sword (even though the new one was a duplicate of it) and said her “heart was broken” — she’d rather have the broken sword than the new replacement. Unfortunately the broken sword was thrown away by the time we tried to get it back.

We acknowledged it would have been better to ask her first and we got her settled and calmed down and into bed OK, but this isn’t the first time she’s had this kind of reaction to losing an object. She lost a small LOL doll at camp this summer and you’d think she lost a best friend. It came up five or six times the rest of the summer where she would cry or get sad thinking about not having it anymore.

We’ll continue to be patient and acknowledge her feelings, but I did tell her that “things” aren’t people or pets — especially this broken sword she had for 20 minutes. What’s a healthy level of attachment here?

Rachel’s response: I think you handled that well, balancing firmness with respect! She needs to know that she’ll lose things sometimes… and you also allowed her to have her feelings (without getting sucked in?!).

As far as a “healthy level of attachment,” as long as it’s not affecting her functioning (ie, she won’t go to somewhere because she’s so upset and can’t leave the house), it’s probably OK for her to have strong feelings about things like this.

If you want to help her with this, it will be worthwhile to understand WHY she gets so upset. You can consider the emotional needs (connection, significance, capability, control, security). Do these items give her a sense of connection or security or significance? Does losing something make her feel out of control? If you can identify that, often you can help her find other ways to fill that need so she doesn’t get so upset by the loss of an item.