Let’s talk about separation anxiety! I get emails from people saying that they’re not sure if it’s the right time to make changes to their child’s sleep because their child is going through separation anxiety. That is a very common part of childhood development that most children go through at one point in their lives. Some experience it a little more often and more severely than others. I do find that there tends to be a correlation around sleep and separation anxiety.
I find that children who sleep well and take proper naps and get a solid night sleep are less prone to longer or more extreme bouts of separation anxiety because they’re rested. We all know, if we’re not feeling rested, we tend to be a little quick to anger, we might be a little low on our attention span, all the things if you’re running on a sleep debt that you’re going to feel, so do your children but usually its harder on them. So, it makes sense that a baby or child who is not sleeping well might be a little clingier and might be quick to tears over the littlest things at certain points in the day.
The first step is to have a good look at your child’s sleep schedule and are there ways that you can make some improvements there? Is your child napping enough during the day? Does he have too late or sometimes too early of a bedtime? Is he getting as much sleep as he needs? Another thing to do is to practice peek-a-boo. I know it sounds silly but when babies are learning, they don’t always understand that when things leave their vision, they are not gone completely. That’s why they tend to cry as soon as you walk out of the room because they don’t yet understand that just because they can’t see you, doesn’t mean you don’t exist. By practicing peek-a-boo, even if you just walk out of the room, come back in, “Peek-a-boo. See? Mommy is still here,” will teach your child that just because you’re gone doesn’t mean you have left the building. That’s a good thing to practice at any age.
Another thing to think about too is that this is a common part of childhood development. Like I said, all children go through it at some point in their lives. It is a normal part the attachment process between a child and a parent. If you need to go to the bathroom or you have to answer the telephone, your child will be ok, even if your child has a breakdown when you do that. Because you will show him that when you leave, you come back and that is really what your child is needing to know, “When my parent leaves, they eventually come back.” And the reality is that sometimes you have to leave and if every time you take a step to leave, he starts to have a meltdown and you come rushing back, the issue that will emerge is that he might start to understand that, “All I have to do to keep her in the room is start to cry or throw a fit and she’ll never leave.” That’s likely going to become very problematic. I always tell parents that when your child is experiencing separation anxiety give them lots of love and attention during the waking hours of the day. When you have to leave him, make it a short and sweet goodbye, don’t drag it on. Then when you return, give him lots of hugs and kisses and tell him you missed him. When it comes to sleep, do not vary the sleep routines. That is your child’s cuing process that sleep is coming and if you have been consistent with these routines, this is what helps transition him to sleep time.
If your child isn’t sleeping well both day and night, the lack of sleep is likely only going to make her separation anxiety worse! So I would encourage you to make sleep changes and teach your child healthy sleep habits. A well rested child is a happy child!
Not sure if you know how to navigate this on your own? I can help! I work with families all the time who have babies experiencing separation anxiety and those babies learn to sleep well too without compromising their feelings of security.