Separation anxiety can fluctuate and surface at many times during a little one's life. It can cause some tricky periods and regularly causes some sleep speed bumps. There are a multitude of reasons why it can come to the surface but also lots, we as parents and carers, can do to help our little ones through it.
One of the most discussed periods of separation anxiety is connected with the infamous 8 month sleep progression. I have done a full blog on this (click here) so I won't give this my main focus today.
I also feel it's important to note that separation anxiety isn't an indicator of any other kind of anxiety disorder for your child. It is a very normal developmental phase that almost every child will experience at one time of another.
Our little people go through such extreme change and development over the first few years of their life it's understandable that they will need support. I mean, when we as adults go through a big change we are likely to seek extra reassurance from friends and family, and our children are no different.
Some causes may be -
Physical developmental leaps such as crawling, standing, walking etc.
Moving into their own room.
Parent returning to work.
The arrival of a new sibling.
Something I feel can really help parents when dealing with a period of sleep difficulty due to separation anxiety is to re-frame the mind.
Seeing your little one's request for comfort as a need rather than a want can help you understand the importance of responding lovingly rather than feeling they need to learn independence.
Attachment fosters independence. We don't teach our little ones to be independent by leaving them alone.
So what can we do to help them??
Empathise with your little one and know this is a big developmental change for them. They are not manipulating you (they really never are).
Spend focused one on one time with them without any distractions. We all fall pray to multi-tasking and with busy lives this is necessary sometimes. However, a few moments a day, give them all your focus. Tonnes of eye contact. Aim to have one of these moments just before the bedtime routine. Giving them as much connection during the day will aid them not seeking it at night.
These focused one to one times can be particularly crucial once they start nursery or you go back to work. Large chunks of time separated from you when they may never have experienced this before can be daunting, and they may compensate at nighttime.
Keep bedtime routine really calm and never rush it. Even if you have had a long day, you're tired and you just need to flop on the sofa yourself. Our children are emotional detectives and if they can sense anxiety it can cause them to feel similar emotions.
Love bomb them. Give them physical reassurance before they've even asked for it. If they feel fully secure in the reassurance being available they may seek it out less.
A comforter can be so useful (over 1 once it is safe). Try to help build their connection to it through yourself. Incorporate it in cuddles and feeds so it smells like you and they connect it to being with you.
Avoid making other big changes during periods of big development. They are unlikely to be as receptive to change when they are already battling with something.