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Separation anxiety is completely normal part of growing and shows that your little one is developing well intellectually, but it can be heartbreaking to leave your baby while they are upset. Separation anxiety takes place when a baby is unusually very upset, screams or cries just as a parent tries to leave; this is because they don’t know if their mummy or daddy will ever return. Walking away from your crying baby can feel agonizing and leave you feeling deflated. Luckily, there are many ways that parents can establish a routine to teach their little one they will return and there is no need for tears. Here are Babogue’s top tips on handling separation anxiety in babies.

What Age Do Babies Get Separation Anxiety?

Signs of separation anxiety usually begin at around 8 to 12 months old, as this is when your baby will develop emotional relationships; they can recognise different people and begin to form connections with parents and other close carers. Before the age of 8 months, babies may not have the ability to distinguish their relationships between people that care for them, so they are not attached to specific people. At the age of around 8 months, your little one will form a close relationship with a parent/s and begin to depend on them.

They will not yet understand they can survive separately without the parent, which is why they can become so unsettled when you leave them. The extent of separation anxiety can vary depending on the child, so don’t feel as though you don’t have a close bond with your baby if they don’t get upset when you’re leaving!

What Should I Do When My Baby Cries When I’m Leaving?

separation anxiety baby
You may feel helpless or unsure how to act when you are leaving your baby with a caregiver to go to work, or your child is upset upon going into their cot at night time. However, there are things you should do and things you should avoid when dealing with this emotional challenge.

Create a Happy Routine When You Are About to Leave

One way to help ease the separation anxiety for your little one when you are leaving is to make saying goodbye a happy and positive time. You should create a routine that prepares your little one for your departure, so they know what is coming and aren’t too surprised. You can do things such as giving your baby a kiss and cuddle, smiling and waving at them with confidence, or singing a happy song. This will help your baby to see that you leaving isn’t a sad time, and they will get used to knowing you are going to come back.

Try to Avoid Showing Negative Emotions

Although it can be difficult not to, showing your little one that you feel upset or stressed out when you are leaving them can only make them cry or scream more. Your baby will feel the tension and associate you leaving with a negative feeling. You must show confidence and positivity when walking out the door so that your emotion is mirrored to your baby.

This won’t stop them crying when separation anxiety begins but it will teach them over time that you leaving isn’t a bad thing.

leaving baby

Don’t Wait Around While Your Baby is Crying

If you wait and fuss around your baby while they are crying then you are only extending the period of distress for you and your little one. Make a happy routine and leave promptly, you can check in with your little one’s carer once you have left to see how they are doing. Usually, your baby will settle down pretty quickly.

What Can I Do to Help Ease Separation Anxiety in my Baby?

Easing the separation anxiety in your baby can take time but there are a range of tips that can work to show your baby that you leaving isn’t a bad thing. Even if you are trying to put your baby down to sleep in a cot and leave the room, they will think you have gone forever and not realise you are right there with them. Once you have established a routine your little one will learn to recognise patterns and repeated actions that indicate you are leaving and will be returning.

Cuddle and Play with Your Baby When You Return

One of the best things you can do to help ease separation anxiety is to give your little one lots of attention and make the time you return a time to look forward to. Once you begin to make your return a positive and happy time, your little one will begin to associate you leaving with a joyful return and feel less emotional. Sit down and play with your baby or cuddle and make her laugh for as long as possible. Remember, a positive attitude will reflect on your baby.

Leave Your Little One with Something as a Substitution

Leaving your little one with a blanket, teddy bear or their favourite toy can comfort them when you aren’t nearby. Having something else they can focus their attention on will help to ease them once you have left. Your little one may naturally have a toy or blanket they are attached to or you may want to try and introduce something for them when you leave yourself. Remember every child is different so be patient and open to trying different things.

Practice Being Separated from Your Baby

One of the best things you can do to help ease the separation anxiety in your baby is to practice short periods of separation from your little one so they can get used to the feeling of you leaving and then returning. Leave your little one with a carer you trust and start going out for 5 minutes, increasing the time to 10 minutes, and then 30 minutes… each time returning with a big happy smile and cuddle. If you are your child’s primary care giver, spending months with them with no separation and then suddenly going back to work and leaving them will make their separation anxiety much worse.

Here at Babogue, we can help your baby get a better night’s sleep so that the whole family is less grumpy and more healthy. Erica is a certified child sleep consultant and established Babogue to help families create settled sleep in their homes. Babogue have helped over 2,500 families in 24 different countries to achieve their sleep goals. Get in touch with us today through info@babogue.com.

Marc Weissbluth

Marc Weissbluth, M.D., has been a pediatrician since 1973. A leading researcher on sleep and children, he founded the original Sleep Disorders Center at Children’s Memorial Hospital (now the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago) and is a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Emeritus, at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Weissbluth discovered that sleep is linked to temperament and that sleep problems are related to infant colic, and he coined the now familiar phrase sleep training to describe his method for helping children learn how to fall asleep.

His finding that changing the time a child is put to bed dramatically decreases the number of night awakenings was published in the prestigious journal Sleep in 1982. His landmark seven-year study on the development and disappearance of naps, published in Sleep in 1995, highlighted the importance of daytime sleep. Since its original publication in 1987, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child has sold more than a million copies and, in twelve foreign editions, helped millions of families the world over. Dr. Weissbluth was acknowledged by the American Academy of Pediatrics for his extensive contributions to the chapter “Your Child’s Sleep” in their popular book for parents, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. Dr. Weissbluth is also the author of Your Fussy Baby and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins, and the producer of a CD, Sweet Baby: Lullabies to Soothe Your Newborn. Married to his wife, Linda, since 1965, he is the father of four sons and eight grandchildren—and they are all good sleepers. Dr. and Mrs. Weissbluth live in Chicago.

Q: What is the Weissbluth Method?

A: The brain is the only organ in the body that requires sleep.  Parents are responsible to make sure this need is met.  Think of healthy sleep like healthy food in the sense that there is good quality food and junk food.  Just as parents don’t look at just the number of calories consumed, parents should not look at just the number of minutes or hours asleep.

Healthy Sleep for Children is composed of five main elements:

1. Sleep duration: night and day.
2. Sleep consolidation.
3. Sleep schedule, timing of sleep, bedtime.
4. Sleep regularity.
5. Naps.

These five elements interact with each other so parents need to be mindful of all five.

Respecting your babies need for healthy sleep is a core principle.  In practice:

  1. Start early to help your baby sleep well.  Practice bedtime routines.
  2. Many Naps or Brief intervals of wakefulness which prevent a second wind that interferes with easily falling asleep and staying asleep.
  3. Many hands means involve others in soothing to sleep so your baby learns how to self-soothe in different circumstances.
  4. Get Dad on Board means that fathers help at night and general support during the day predict better infant sleep.
  5. At 6 weeks of age, the brain wants an earlier bedtime.  Respect the night sleep circadian rhythm.
  6. At 2-4 months of age, naps become more regular.  Respect the nap circadian rhythm.

At any age, sleeping in synchrony with circadian sleep rhythms produces better quality sleep.  Use your child’s natural sleep rhythm as an aid to help your child sleep well.

A Healthy Child needs a Healthy Brain.
A Healthy Brain needs Healthy Sleep.

Q: How should a new parent be preparing for their baby?

A: Co-parenting is the manner in which parents work together to raise their children.  Within the context of specific family circumstances, to achieve healthy sleep, focus on teamwork.  High positive co-parenting quality elements include:

  1. Agreement: “My partner and I have the same goals for our child.”
  2. Closeness: “My relationship with my partner is stronger now than before we had a child.”
  3. Support: “My partner asks my opinion on issues related to parenting.”
  4. Endorsement: “I believe my partner is a good parent.”
  5. Division of labor: “My partner does carry his or her fair share of the parenting work.”

When positive co-parent quality is high, parents’ ability to deal with bedtime issues and nighttime awakenings is greater.  This emphasizes the importance of communication and concordance in nighttime parenting practices.

Communicate with each other and coordinate nighttime parenting practices.

Q: What are the signs of baby fatigue?

A: Drowsy signs are the early warning system, signaling that you need to start the soothing process to sleep. Then, sweet sleep is almost guaranteed.  Fatigue signs occur when you were too late and finding sleep might be tough.

Drowsy Signs

Moving into the Sleep Zone.  Moving away from alert, calm and relaxed.

• Decreased activity, less animated, becomes quieter.

• Slower motions, less social, less vocal.

• Less interested in toys or people.

• Sucking is weaker or slower.

• Yawning.

These behaviours are most noticeable when the child is in a quiet and relaxed environment, for example, when being read to.  They might be less apparent in a stimulating environment such as a busy mall or when he is in front of a television or screen-based media device.  Or they might not be noticed because you are distracted by looking at a screen or on a phone call.

Are you dealing with Early Rising?

Important Point

Try to begin soothing before you notice changes in the eyes.

• Pay close attention to the eyes and eye lids as he transitions from mild to deeper drowsiness to almost a sleep state:

• Eyes become less focused on surroundings, eyes appear glazed over, staring, or not as sparkling.

• He may seem to look “through you” and not socially “at you.”

• Eyelids drooping, eyelids come down slowly, long blinks.

Fatigue Signs

Entering Overtired Zone.  Becoming overtired.  Moving toward irritable and tense.

• Mild fussiness, irritability, cranky, moodiness, pulling ears, drooping head, rubbing eyes.

• Easily upset, clinging, peevish, easily frustrated, short-fused, rough around the edges.

• Whining, whingeing, mewling, crying, slightly “wired”, less cooperative, less able to entertain himself.

The most common mistake made by parents is mistaking fatigue signs, which come late, with drowsy signs which appear early and signal the rising of the sleep wave.

Q: What is your top tip to help get the baby to sleep?

A: The single most important word is timing.  You are using your child’s natural sleep rhythm as an aid to help her sleep well.  You watch for drowsy signs and when they appear, you begin your soothing to sleep efforts and bedtime routines.  Good timing prevents a second wind.  What happens when you skip a nap or the interval between naps is too long or the bedtime is too late?

When you are short on sleep, your body reacts in a predictable way. You get keyed up because your body produces stimulating chemicals such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline to fight the fatigue. This results in a burst of energy commonly known as a second wind. When you catch your second wind, you are in a state of higher neurological arousal. You might feel more wired, turned on, or full of nervous energy.

The higher state of neurological arousal makes it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep or both.  Understanding how sleep deprivation causes a second wind that makes it more difficult to easily fall asleep and stay asleep also leads to a deeper appreciation of the opposite situation: being well-rested allows your child to more easily fall asleep and stay asleep.

It’s a virtuous circle: sleep begets sleep.
It’s also a vicious circle: sleeplessness begets sleeplessness.

Q: At what age should you start the Weissbluth Method?

A: It is never too early to start to help your child sleep better.  Start with your newborn, or as early as possible to help your child sleep well because:

  1. Keeping the intervals of wakefulness between naps brief and protecting early bedtimes avoids the overtired state which makes it easier for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. Your soothing efforts and bedtime routines help your baby transition from wakefulness to sleep.  As time passes, because your child is well-rested, your child is more able to learn self-soothing and develop healthy sleep habits.  Learning good habits early is easier than breaking bad habits later.  The benefits of healthy sleep accrue and sleep problems are prevented.
  2. Healthy sleep may enhance neurodevelopment of the brain just as healthy foods build strong bones. Brain development is extremely rapid during infancy and the first few years of life.  Starting early with healthy sleep optimizes healthy brain development and may prevent adverse outcomes.

It is never too late to start to help your child sleep better because:

  1. Brain development continues during the first two decades.
  2. A small number of extra minutes of sleep, even only 10-20 minutes, over time, make a big difference. Perhaps, just move the bedtime a little earlier.

Q: How does daytime sleep differ from night sleep?

A: Naps are not little bits of night sleep randomly intruding upon children’s waking hours.  Naps have their own rhythms and specific purposes.

Why Naps are Beneficial:

  1. Naps reduce stress: During a nap, levels of cortisol dramatically decrease.
  2. Naps enhance emotional- and self-regulation: After a nap, children show more joy and pride; less worry/anxiety.
  3. Naps modulate temperament: Napping is associated with more positive mood, more adaptability, and longer persistence.
  4. Naps consolidate memories: Naps following learning enhance the memory of what was learned.
  5. Naps enhance executive function:  Naps improve attention in the presence of conflicting information.
  6. Naps contain REM sleep and REM sleep helps direct the course of brain maturation.
  7. Naps and night sleep interact with each other:  When children nap well, they remain at a lower level of neurological activation that produces a virtuous circle of healthy sleep during the day and healthy sleep during the night.  When children do not nap well, they are at a higher level of neurological arousal resulting in bedtime resistance, night wakings, and short night sleep durations.  Subsequently, waking up short of sleep, naps become more problematic: a vicious circle.

Q: Does the Weissbluth Method work for all age groups?

A: Yes.

For children of every age, the brain naturally alternates between wake and sleep outputs.  This is an automatic process over which we have no control.  If you try to fight this circadian rhythm, you will lose because the ancient and powerful force behind this biological process is the rotation of the earth on its axis creating day and night.  As the earth rotates, dawn and dusk separate day and night.  Dawn and dusk are twilight, or in-between states. Not fully day and not fully night.

The brain automatically shifts into the drowsy state which  is also an in-between state: not fully awake and not fully asleep.  As your baby starts to become drowsy, begin to soothe your child to sleep.  Healthy sleep occurs when the sleep period is in synchrony with the occurrence of the brain’s output for sleep both during the day and night.

When you put your well-rested child to sleep at the beginning of the drowsy period, because the baby’s brain is naturally drifting into a sleep state:

· It is easier for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep.
· No crying occurs before your child falls asleep.

Although some adults have an eveningness preference (owls) while others have a morningness preference (larks), research in children shows that between birth and 8 years of age, evening types (owls) occurs in less than 2 percent of children at every age.  In separate research, using objective measures of sleep and salivary melatonin, at 30-36 months of age, the number of definite evening types was zero.

So, the vast majority of babies and young children are larks (become drowsy early in the evening and wake up early in the morning) and thus benefit from early bedtimes.

More information is available at: Marcweissbluthmd.blog or Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

We are absolutely delighted that behaviour expert Aoife Lee was able to provide us with this amazing guest blog as part of our Expert Series. Over the last number of years Aoife has provided me with advice regarding my own childrens behaviour that has always been extremely effective. This blog contains brilliant tips to help you handle the return to school and any challenging behaviours that might come with that. 

Aoife Lee is a mum of 3 children, and accredited parent coach and Founder of Parent Support. She has been supporting families for the last 20 years and is an Award Winning Parenting Expert with regular appearances on Ireland AM and Today FM. Aoife offers 1:1 Support Sessions for Parents and works with many organisations giving corporate wellness parenting talks and workshops. Aoife recently launched a Positive Parenting E-Learning Course to help parents build a calmer and happier home. Follow Aoife on Instagram or connect with her on LinkedIn for Parenting tips or if you would like to learn more.

Aoife Lee

In this Blog I am going to share with you how we can support our children through change, understanding behaviours and how we can approach them to make things a little easier for everyone.

As we gear up for the return to school since prior to the Christmas holidays, little did we know that one year on we would see ourselves in a familiar scenario with Covid-19.  Taking stock of all we have been through – children and parents alike, families have been tested beyond belief, socially, emotionally, physically and mentally.  Through my own experience with my 3 children and also from supporting many parents for the last 12 months, a lot of children have regressed in many of their behaviours, in particular, sleep, fussy eating, not listening, irritability, potty training, separation anxiety, seeking control through tantrums and so much more.  Parenting is hard however Covid has added a whole new dimension!

Return to Education

As our government has just announced plans for our children’s return to school, there is hope that they will be more settled in themselves, seeing their friends, socialising outside of immediate family and  establishing a consistent and structured routine like before.  There is no doubt it will ease the pressure for all of us.  With that, though it has brought a mix of emotions from excitement to disappointment that it’s another number of weeks for the older ones, for the younger children it’s fretting about being separated from parents.  The one positive is that the kids will know what to expect from working in pods to the expectations of washing hands as per Covid guidelines.

Up until now we have tried to keep the children busy and entertained, there has been certainly a lot more screen time than usual – this being the same for everyone. The onset of that is seeing all of these emotions through our children’s behaviours,  here are some practical tips to help you and your family cope with the transition back to school.

Coping with change

Like anything we all have different ways of coping and managing through change, something I know can be very hard at times; these changes don’t just impact us as parents but the children too and in so many ways.  Yes, behaviours can be learned and become a habit depending on what is going on but more often than not there are reasons for a change and the impact of Covid-19 being a big part of that.

It’s important that we are able to say it out loud, acknowledge that it hasn’t been the easiest of times but that there is certain approaches we can adapt to, to make it that little bit easier on ourselves and the children as the focus is now on returning to school

back to school

Setting expectations & boundaries

Whether we realise it or not children like to know a plan, what is happening next, down to ‘what are the family rules?’ We can begin to establish expectations of one another from very early on, beginning with routines, how we speak to each other, bedtimes, a plan around screen time once the kids return to school and where homework occurs, sweet treats for mid-week versus the weekends. They are consistently learning from observing and listening.

Children naturally push the boundaries, because they know they can, however the more consistent we can be with our own messaging through following through and being consistent the more they will see we are being serious and fair too.

Giving your child a choice

At the moment, children have little choice or control over what’s happening, they may seek out ways of control through their behaviours, so a great approach to this is handing over some healthy decisions to your child - in the form of offering some choices.

Rather than trying to insist children do something, you offer them a choice between doing what you ask and a consequence for not doing so. For example, if they are reluctant to do their school work but really want the TV on  suggest; “when you finish your homework, then you can have your TV time, but not until then, it’s up to you” or if they are on a mission to have that snack before dinnertime; “It’s time for dinner, you can have the snack afterwards or not at all, it’s your choice”. 

Name the feelings out loud!

One of the most powerful ways to diffuse a situation or to calm a very emotional child is firstly to keep calm ourselves, I know this can be easier said than done but children rely on us to be in control. Our children pick up on our energy and emotions, they are in tune with us whether it is that we are very upset or doing our best to stay as calm as we can. The next time your child is angry, upset, irritated, frustrated or sad, I am suggesting that you name the exact feeling ‘I can see that you’re really frustrated’. When we listen and appreciate our children’s feelings particularly now, they learn over time to understand and manage these feelings especially the difficult emotions like anger, frustration and upset. 

name that feeling

Pressing Pause

We are all familiar with the phrase ‘adding fuel to the fire’. When you see an argument fast approaching with your child or you are very much in the middle of it.  It’s usually at this point that we want to discuss the in’s and out’s, explain, reason, issue consequences etc.  We all know it’s unlikely we’ll resolve it there and then, particularly if everyone is upset.  If you need to talk to your child about something important, it is a lot more effective when everything and everyone has calmed down – provide space, avoid insisting it is resolved there and then.  The calmer we all are the easier we can chat through and resolve it.

Be Kind to Yourself

We all know that this time will pass and we will look back and wonder how we did it all! We have to make significant changes for everyone’s gain and for now it’s about managing as best we can.  We are human and taking this time to look at what works best for you in your job and your family is the main thing.  Ask for help if you need it, keep communication open at home with your partner or close friend or family member, the children and your team.  Take time out to recharge the batteries.  Stay safe and healthy.

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