Navigating the Tricky Stage of Separation Anxiety
It’s nice to be needed, isn’t it?
Most of the time, I loved being the favourite parent and the adoration I received from my 3 boys. But I quickly realized that there’s a fine line between loving life as the “chosen one”, and feeling trapped because I couldn’t even leave the room without there being tears.
In true first time mom fashion, I couldn't figure out why this was suddenly a problem. But eventually I learned about this delicate thing called Separation Anxiety.
Why it Happens
Separation anxiety is this odd thing where your baby who previously didn’t react to your comings and goings, or could be handed off to any Grandma or Uncle, is now suddenly very aware of these actions. And they usually don’t like it! Strange, right?
But it’s actually a good thing! It’s a result of a cognitive development because they’re learning what Object Permanence is. In the past, if someone (or something) they love leaves their field of vision, they forget about its existence. Out of sight, out of mind. But now, they’re acutely aware that it’s still around somewhere - and they want it back!
Object Permanence often develops when baby is 8-10 months old, but as early as 6 months old for the eager beavers in the room. Then it often spikes again at the 18-24 month mark.
And while this is a positive thing, it can be hard to deal with. It can be hard for two reasons:
Being the “rejected” parent can be tough emotionally. Of course we know not to take it personally, but it never feels great when your little one doesn’t want you!
Being the “favoured” parent can also be tough because they want to be held by you constantly, and being alone EVER seems impossible without major protest.
But experience will remind you to take it in stride. It’s not something that you need to take to heart, but it is something that will pass in a short amount of time. The tricky part is that on top of the trying moments throughout the day, it can also affect your little one’s sleep. Ooph, talk about a double whammy! Unlike before, now they’re aware that even though you’ve left the room, you can come back. And while I’m the bearer of bad news, I’ll tell you that separation anxiety can also be a factor in the 8-10 month sleep regression. Yup! There’s a regression then too.
So how do we get through it?
How You Can Help
You know I won’t just drop this news on you and leave you in a lurch, right? I’m here to share my practical advice that you can implement right away to start seeing an ease in what they’re experiencing. The best part is, it’s easy on your babe too.
Be intentional about spending quality time together. I would argue quality and quantity time during this phase. Turn off the tv, put your phone away, and spend some good 1:1 time with them. They really need your presence right now! This is especially helpful prior to bedtime.
Have a consistent, calming routine before they go to sleep. Routines give your kiddo a sense of security, and it lets their brain know that sleep is coming. When they’re already dealing with a lot, consistency and dependability is especially important.
Stay calm & relaxed. When you’re stressed about bedtime, your kiddo will be too. But when you’re confident that it’s going to go smoothly, they pick up on that. Our kids are very aware of the type of energy we give off, and it affects their mood as well!
Have extra comforts at bedtime. It’s A-okay for your little one to take a bit more time to fall asleep when they’re dealing with this. And if an extra story or more snuggles will help them out, then that’s what you do! But just like when they’re sick, it's important to fully indulge in comforts when they’re out of sorts. But it’s also important to keep those good habits going to prevent creating a sleep crutch.
Don’t be sneaky. I know we’ve all seen (or done!) the old “sneak out of the room while the kid is distracted” method. But I’ll gently remind you that this isn’t actually helpful. You want to build trust, and reassure them that you will return. Say something along the lines of “See you in the morning” or something that reminds them that you’ll be back for them. Nobody likes feeling abandoned, especially when they’re feeling vulnerable.
When your child is learning something new, it’s normal for sleep to go out the window for a bit. If you need support, reach out! Whether it’s tied to a regression, development, or you’re learning independent sleep from scratch, I’m here to guide you through it! If you have questions first, book your free call so we can find what works best for you.