Separation anxiety can be really tricky to get through and may be especially common at the moment with children returning to school or nursery after having months off due to Covid-19. It can show itself in quite a lot of ways, such as: periods of being clingy, preference for one parent, getting upset when you’re out of sight, tears when you leave them at nursery or with another caregiver, sleep resistance and calling for you in the middle of the night. This behaviour is completely normal and really common.
It can appear at any age but a lot of parents first notice it around 6-8 months old, as this is when your baby notices that you are separate people (during the earlier months, they aren’t aware of this). They start to realise that it’s really important that you are there to look after them and keep them safe, so I can assure you that your baby isn’t trying to manipulate you- they’re just trying to survive!! It is a completely normal part of their developmental changes.
Separation anxiety can happen at any age- they could be adjusting to nursery, big school, a house move or a new sibling. As their parent, you are their most trusted person so it can feel like they can let all their emotions and stress out around you once you are reunited as you are the person they feel safest with.
It is also really common for sleep ‘problems’ to happen when they are going through a stage of separation anxiety, and it can be made worse if they are hungry, sick or tired.
So here are some top tips:
1- Introduce a comforter. For older ones, this can be something of yours for them to look after. This is to help them feel connected to you even when you’re not there. If they don’t have a favourite toy yet, you can let them choose which teddy to take to bed
2- Keep an eye on their sleep needs- Are they napping for too long or not getting enough sleep? Both undertiredness and overtiredness can lead to bedtime battles. (I have another blog all about bedtime battles on my website)
3- Try and forge relationships with other people- For example, grandparents, nanny/childminder or close friends or family of yours
4- Don’t make any big changes during the period of separation anxiety such as moving them to their own room, toilet training etc. Try and wait until it has passed.
5- Spend quality time with them. Make time for play whenever you can, give them your full attention and give them lots of praise, cuddles and reassurance.
6- “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. Fill up your child’s love tank but don’t forget to take time for yourself as well.
7- Stick to your boundaries. While it can be tempting to give in to every demand from your toddler, this doesn’t help in the long term. You should always respond with love, but that also sometimes means lovingly returning them to their own bed if they get out or sticking to the 2 stories you agreed on. Give reassurance but don’t overcompensate
8- Make quick goodbye rituals. If you need to go out without them (or are dropping them off at nursery/ school etc), make sure they know you have left and that you will come back, but don’t linger. After working in a nursery, I have seen first-hand that most children will settle within a few minutes of you leaving, but will often keep crying if they know you are still hanging around.
9- Stay calm. It can be really upsetting to see your little one distressed but you want to try to keep your emotions light and positive so they can see there’s nothing to worry about.
Remember, separation anxiety is a completely normal part of their development and you can support them through it with patience, love and consistency.
Blog inspired by 'Just Chill Baby Sleep' post