Supporting Baby Through Separation Anxiety
Recently my two year old has been making requests for mom and dad to stay with him at bedtime. I am not surprised! We’ve been through the “peak in separation anxiety” thing a few times already.. and at age 2, this tends to come back one more time. Aren’t sleep regressions fun?! ha.
The first time we see this in babies is typically at 9 months, and I think it is the most surprising because it is new, and different. By the time we experience a second peak in separation anxiety around 18 months, we are usually able to communicate more with baby, and work through it together. And at age 2, my son has many words he can use to tell me more about what he needs to feel safe and secure for sleep. Words are the best!
Remember the concept of object permanence? This is learning that objects exist even when we can’t see them? While this new intellectual skill is a vital part of your child’s development, it is also one of the root causes of separation anxiety.
But if my child knows I exist even when they can’t see me, what’s the big deal?
Your child now has a mental picture of you forever in their mind and, unfortunately, babies learn about people leaving before they learn about people returning, and it is between the ages of 9 and 18 months that separation anxiety will typically peak.
Dealing with separation anxiety can be a challenge for both parents and children, but there are a few things you can do to help you through:
Create a secure relationship with your child. Focus on active play, building trust, and responding to their cries.
Allow your child time to play independently (although be within sight to ensure safety, and practice distancing yourself for short periods of time).
Communicate with your child: Tell them you are leaving but assure them that you will be back. Come back when you say you will. This also builds trust.
Read books about characters and animals who leave the home, and return again.
Introduce new people and places gradually; it takes time to build relationships.
Introduce a transitional object such as a blanket or special toy that can be comforting when you are away from one another.
Keep goodbyes brief.
For bedtime troubles, comfort and reassure your child that you are there for them. When they are ready for sleep, some gentle back rubs or hand holding can help to soothe your child and bring back those easy bedtimes.
I know we are often worried about creating a, “bad habit”, in place of a habit that we have worked hard to create such as; going to sleep independently. But remember, one of the first stages of developing secure attachments is proximity. Children will return to this phase, and not graduate to the next stage of attachment until their needs have been met in the stage that they are in, and they feel safe and secure. It is normal for our children to need more support through these times in development.
As our children develop, they will eventually learn that separations from their parents (whether they be daycare or bedtime) are not permanent. This too is another stage that can be incredibly difficult and pull on your parental heart strings, but remember that it is a normal stage of development in building healthy, secure children, and one that does show your child’s development is right on track.
I encourage you to chat with me more if there is anything I can do to help you through bedtime challenges you are experiencing in your home. I would be more than happy to help.
And as always, thank you to @stacielynnphotography for the beautiful image you see here.