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What is Separation Anxiety - by Charlotte Hillyard

Is your little one experiencing Separation Anxiety? If so, this blog is just for you!

It might not seem normal that your little one is clinging to you like a spider monkey, and screaming until they are red in the face, but be rest assured, Separation Anxiety is all a very normal part of development.

So, what is Separation Anxiety?

Separation Anxiety is triggered when your little one experiences or anticipates the feelings of separation from you. It usually begins when your little one is around 6-7 months old as they start learning about object permanence. In essence, they learn that when you leave the room, you still exist somewhere. That’s why games such as peek-a-boo were like the most amazing magic trick ever!

Separation Anxiety peaks at different stages, but the most common ones are:

  • 6 months
  • 9 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years

During this time, you may notice your little one becoming clingier, upset or very attached to the main caregiver.

During this developmental phase, those feelings of separation from you, can make bedtime or naptime so challenging. It can even affect every day tasks, for example a quick trip to the bathroom, can result in your little one becoming very upset.

Separation anxiety can be a large contributor to sleep issues as well. I have seen little ones who were once previously very content to fall asleep independently, suddenly not wanting mum or dad to leave the room, or wanting their hand held as they fall asleep or possibly suddenly waking in the night. They can also experience this sense of anticipation leading up to nap/bedtime, resulting in upset.

So, what can you do to help?

  1. You can practice leaving the house for short intervals and saying goodbye. Sneaking away usually makes it worse.
  2. Keep consistent with their routine, this will be key! Routines help make babies feel safe in knowing what’s coming next.
  3. For babies, you can try ‘Cot and Room play’. This is great in short 5-10 minute bursts, once or twice a day (away from nap times). You can make the room bright and cheerful, add fun music if you like, your goal is anything to make them laugh. The better the association with their room, the more relaxed they are and the quicker they’ll likely fall asleep. It really can make such a difference to building the foundations for better sleep.
  4. For Toddlers, try ‘Special Time’, which is like Cot and Room play, but for older children. Again, this 1-2-1 dedicated time with your little one, for 5- 20 minute bursts, once or twice a day, can really help ease Separation Anxiety, improve behaviour, reduce tantrums and even night time wake ups. You essentially want them to choose what they want to play with, so present them either ‘a’ or ‘b’ (this sense of them choosing and having ownership is key). It could be a puzzle or a tea party, whatever they enjoy doing (within reason – no phones or electronics), set a timer and enjoy the time.
  5. Invest in a comforter or sleep aid, for example ‘Jaspar’. This adorable, little elephant can be the perfect companion to ease separation anxiety, especially for Toddlers who may be at nursery or with family members. The voice recording function really sets it apart from its competitors, as you can record your voice on it! I know – game changer! This is a massive bonus for naps, especially ones when you aren’t around, as you can even record yourself reading their favourite story. Then all your little one needs to do is press Jaspar’s foot before a nap and then relax. Happy snoozing!