Everything is finally going well with your baby's bedtime routine, your little one has gotten used to their sleep routine and is sleeping through the night. Then, all of a sudden you can't leave the room without your child crying their eyes out, reaching up to you constantly, and struggling to be left alone in their crib. Say hello to separation anxiety! Separation anxiety is completely normal and is actually a good sign that your baby is developing properly. But separation anxiety can interrupt your little one's ability to fall asleep at night, and make the evenings feel stressful and upsetting for both you and your baby. Rest assured, there are a number of things that you can do to help ease separation anxiety and make bedtime less daunting.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a natural part of the development and can take place at any time from the age of 6 to 18 months old. Before this age, you may notice that your newborn was happy to be passed around family members and friends; this is because newborn babies can not yet tell the difference between adults. However, once your baby becomes old enough, they will be able to distinguish people and become aware of who their mummy and daddy are. As this happens, your baby will begin to develop the concept of object permanence, where they can understand that even if a person isn't in their sight, they still exist. Before then, babies only take in what is in their sight, and if they can't see something then they don't know that it exists. This means that your baby has formed a healthy attachment to you and knows that you still exist even when they can't see you, but they may become confused and think that you won't return - this part is the separation anxiety.
Because of object permanence, your child does not like when you leave them and bedtime can become extremely emotional. Separation anxiety is one of the main causes of the 6 to 9-month sleep regression, so you can expect to have quite a few disrupted nights.
What Are The Signs of Separation Anxiety?
If your child's nighttime routine becomes disrupted, they may just be experiencing a temporary sleep regression, rather than separation anxiety. However, separation anxiety lasts a lot longer than regression and signs may be visible during the day, as well as the night. Children with separation anxiety tend to:
- Become much more clingy than usual
- Cry a lot when you leave the room and stop when you come back
- Get upset when they are around people they do not recognise
- Have a preference for parents only; or have a parental preference
- Struggle to nap during the day and at night
- Become extremely emotional when going into daycare
- Cry more when they wake in the middle of the night
These are just some of the signs that your child is experiencing separation anxiety. One of the most challenging parts of separation anxiety for parents can be the disrupted sleep during the night. We all need our sleep at night to re-energise and stay happy and healthy.
How Can I Help My Baby to Sleep While They are Experiencing Separation Anxiety?
One of the most important things to remember when it comes to dealing with separation anxiety is that your baby will rely on you to lead and take charge. Babies look to their parents for confidence so try your very best to stay calm, patient and firm while helping your crying baby at night. Here are our top tips to help your baby get to sleep at night.
Always Say Goodnight and Make It Known That You are Leaving
One of the most common mistakes that parents make is to try and sneak out of their baby's nursery in the evening, while their little one isn't looking. Doing this could make the anxiety worse because your child will always feel on edge thinking that you could disappear at any second. Once your baby is in their crib, give them a big kiss and warm cuddle and then say goodnight in a happy and positive way. Make it known that you are saying goodnight which means they will not see you again before they fall asleep. Keep this routine short and firm, and remember to stay calm even if your little one is upset.
Keep The Bedtime Routine Consistent
A great way to help your baby settle at night is to remain completely consistent with bedtime. Stick to the same routine every evening. There is no perfect schedule so you should do what is best for you and your family. Many parents like to bathe their baby, dim the lights, put on some white noise and then settle into bed. Whichever routine you follow, carry on with it in the same order! Changing up the routine at this point can only cause confusion and make it harder for them to go to sleep.
Alter Naptime and Bedtime, If Necessary
As long as the things you do to settle your baby or toddler stay in the same order, you can alter the bedtime, if necessary. One of the biggest issues that can affect how easily your baby is sleeping is if they are overtired or under tired. If your children are under tired, they will naturally struggle to get to sleep, but if they are overtired the cortisol hormone will fire up, which is a stress hormone, and has the effect of making it difficult to fall asleep! Try to adjust bedtime so that your children have the best chance at feeling sleepy and less chance of getting too emotional when you leave.
Practice Leaving During the Day
Another great tip to help kids feel comfortable when being put to bed is to get them used to the feeling of you leaving during the day. Try leaving your baby to play with a trusted carer or another parent for a short period of time and then return, increasing the time you leave as the weeks progress. This means that when it comes to the evening, your 6 to 9 month old will be a little more used to being apart from you.
Avoid Introducing New Habits
Introducing new habits such as co-sleeping, taking the baby out of the crib, rocking, feeding where it has passed, or fussing isn't a great idea if you are trying to improve sleep. This is because it can become confusing and your baby may start to associate these new habits as part of their sleep routine and start to expect them to happen around their sleep. Remember that consistency is key and you should follow the same schedule, saying good night in a warm, yet firm way.
Reach Family Sleep Goals with Babogue
Parenting can be extremely tough at times, but hang in there! The Sleep Series introduces 7 Steps to Better Sleep for you and your family. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, which is why Erica is so passionate about helping families. Erica is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant and through the Sleep Series & her one-to-one Virtual Sleep Solution services, she has helped thousands of families reach The Gift of Sleep. Browse our website to find out more today.