Separation Anxiety, Sleep Regression

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

I hear many stories of how separation anxiety affects the little ones and the knock on effect it can to sleep and daycares.

Personally, I remember the first time I ever left my middle child. She was one year old with a babysitter whilst I worked a few extra hours.

The first few days were actually not too bad, but then she started to connect me leaving the house, with the arrival of the babysitter.

As soon as she would see her - she would start to cry and cling to me. She would have big fat tears rolling down her red rosy cheeks, I felt dreadful but I didn't have a choice, I had to go to work.

I knew what was coming next - her sleep (and mine) would start to be interrupted.

Everybody wakes up through the night and we usually just flip over, readjust our pillows and go back to sleep.

For a baby/toddler who is going through changes (which can get over looked by us) this can start to have a negative effect on their sleep as they wake up and start to cry because they are starting to realize that they are not an extension of you - but they are a separate being AND more importantly where is my Mum?

So of course, a week in she started to wake up and cry (and I’ve many a time heard clients describe the separation anxiety cries as a scream, a genuine fearful sounding cry), so it was back to getting up and staggering down the hallway, bleary eyed in an attempt to quieted her down before waking up her 3 year old brother, with whom she shared a room.

Babies and toddlers don't wear watches and don't really have any time concept but they get a sense of security from predictability and they also associate our behavior with what comes next.

As an example: when you get your coat on and wave bye-bye, they know that you are leaving, our actions become predictable. They don't want you to go and it can get to the point where they start to cry in anticipation.

From a baby/toddlers perspective they don't know when you are going to come back or if you will as there are no visual cues for them to see or predict your return. Initially they are waiting and on edge until they see you again.

Which for a baby/toddler is hard as if you are out of sight - they don't know that you exist.

Separation anxiety can develop from as young as 6 months of age or when certain miles stones are met but is more prevalent around the age of 8-9 months.

Crawling for instance - they crawl away and then realize you are not there and it can take a few weeks to subside - it can also come back again in toddler hood and then settle down again to disappear altogether. Here are a few tips on how to handle it and what you can do to help your child understand the concept.

  • Play peek a boo - disappearing and re