Over here, we hear many stories of how separation anxiety affects the little ones and the knock on effect it can to sleep and daycare drop offs.
Personally, I remember the first time I ever left my middle child, when 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 anticipate my 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: 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 reappearing from under a blanket
When you leave the room – use you voice so that they can still hear you
Don’t hang around when it is time to say goodbye showing emotions – look confident and reassuring.
Hand your baby/toddler over to the caregiver – don’t let the caregiver take the baby/toddler from you. This will show your child that you have confidence in their care provider.
During the day spend extra time with your child if you can – given them reassurance and extra hugs and cuddles.
If your baby/toddler starts to wake up in the night go in and use verbal reassurance, then start to pull back and do it from the doorway – then outside the door. Don’t get too caught up in the process of helping them fall back to sleep physically (rocking, holding, walking etc)
Flip the monitors around so you can reassure them through the monitor – some these days I believe also have a two way talk feature.
If you are going out for the evening make sure that you baby/toddler has seen the babysitter in your home or met them before. It’s frightening for you baby to wake up and see a stranger peering down at them.
Although its hard – it wont last forever and everything will settle down eventually. Don’t feel guilty as life is ever changing and sometimes things crop up that you can’t help and were not expecting.
Being prepared and being one step ahead will make the transition smoother for all of you - Remember: If your baby/toddler has previously slept through the night and then starts to wake crying – this does not mean that your baby/toddler can no longer sleep through the night or that they have a sleep issue. Try and think about when it started and what was happening in your life around this time. Babies / toddlers can be very sensitive to their surrounding and I have know babies with parents who are moving house to be effected by sleep regression and not due to the location of the new room, but picking up on the parents stress.