Separation anxiety is a real fear that your baby has that it will never see you again. It can be when you are leaving the room or when your baby wakes up in the night, and you are not there. This can make it hard for your baby to settle at bedtime and hard for him to go back to sleep by himself.
Separation anxiety can also be an issue when you hand your baby over to someone else.
Nearly all babies will have separation anxiety at some point, but fortunately, there are several things you can do to help. In this text, I am listing and explaining six useful techniques that will assist in putting your baby to bed, and that will keep your baby sleeping.
As hard and stressful as it can be for you, your family and not least your baby, separation anxiety is, in fact, a good sign that the baby has a healthy relationship with its mother and father. There is nothing wrong with your baby, and it shows that the baby has a firm attachment to you.
How to recognise separation anxiety.
To be able to help a baby with sleep anxiety you must first recognise what you are dealing with.
A good indicator would be a baby who is confidently playing when you are in the room, but as soon as you leave the room he will start to cry.
It could also be when someone else is holding him, and he starts to cry the minute you are out of sight.
When to expect separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety does not appear in a newborn baby as an infant does not have a concept of itself as a separate being from you. As far as it knows it may as well be an organ or a body part of its parent. When the baby grows older, it will learn that it can be separated from you. The baby still doesn’t have any sense of time. It can therefore not tell whether you will be back in a minute or will be gone forever – hence the fear.
The problems can appear from as early as four months old, but that is quite unusual. It is more common to appear during the second half of the baby’s first year of life, and it tends to peak around 8-10 months of age.
If you are lucky, your baby will get over it by the time it is 12 months. Most babies tend to have it until they are at least 18 months, and some will still be anxious until they are two years old.
The 6 Ways to avoid separation anxiety.
The first step will always be to acknowledge that your baby’s fear is real. Your baby is scared that it will never see you again. The way to mitigate this fear is to grow the baby’s confidence in that you will always be back. The following methods will help with that:
- No drama. The most important step is to make sure there is no drama when your baby starts to cry. As heartbreaking as it can be to watch your baby cry it is critical not to get upset yourself or to make a big deal out of it. Keep your goodbye short and show your baby, by acting normal and confident that there is nothing to be scared of. Your baby is very good at picking up signs of your feelings. If you are distressed then so will your baby.
Be kind to yourself and keep telling yourself that it is only a phase in your baby’s development that will be over soon.
- Let your baby spend time with other people. To grow your baby’s confidence in other people, it is a good idea to make sure that you are not the only person that handles and puts your baby to bed. Let friends and family hold and play with your little one on a regular basis and make sure you and your partner take turns in putting your baby to bed. Take the opportunity to let grandparents and close friends put your baby to bed if they offer but only if your baby is not showing any signs of distress.
If your baby is breastfeeding, it might be hard as a mother to hand your baby over and let someone else put the baby to bed. In that case, it is good to do the bedding together with your partner.
- Play peek-a-boo. This is the most fun advice I have to offer. Most baby’s above the age of 6 months love this game, and you will get lots of great giggles and smiles back. Even if your baby is not quite old enough to understand the game they will still benefit from it. The idea of the game is to hide your face behind something -e.g., your hands, under the table or a blanket. After disappearing for a short while, you suddenly reappear and say peek-a-boo (or something else). This teaches your baby that you will always come back. The game helps build up trust between you and makes your baby more confident. Try to make it a habit of playing peek-a-boo at least once a day. As your baby grows older, you can gradually increase the time you stay hidden and even leave the room completely before you quickly peek back in.
- Help your baby feel close to you when you are not there. You can help a baby with separation anxiety to feel more confident by leaving reminders of yourself with him/her. You could, for example, leave an item of clothing that has your scent with your baby in the cot. This can be effective, but it is crucial to make sure there is no risk of it smothering your baby. A better option could be for you to sleep with a safe suffocation risk-free blanket for a few nights. This will transfer your scent onto it before letting your baby use it in its cot.
You could also record your voice, perhaps singing your baby’s favourite lullaby, and then played it when you around not there. There are several apps available to do this.
- Keep life constant when your baby is 9-10 months. As separation anxiety is most common to appear when your baby is around 9-10 months, it is a good idea to try to keep things constant in your baby’s life at that point. Try to keep your established routines and don’t move your baby into a new room at this age. Be aware that going on holiday, starting daycare or going back to work at this sensitive period can trigger separation anxiety.
- Talk to your baby. This advice will not work well with the youngest babies but babies approaching one year understand more than you might think. Tell your baby where in the house you will be when she/he is sleeping and reassure that you will be back. A good exercise that builds up the baby’s trust in you is this: As you put the baby to bed promise to be back soon and check on him/her. Then leave the room but only wait outside for a minute or two before you come back in. Since your baby doesn’t have a good sense of time, it can’t tell that you are only away for a moment. The memory of you promising to be back soon, will however still be fresh and your baby’s trust in you will, therefore, be reinforced.
You should now have an understanding of what separation anxiety is and why it appears in babies.
Go ahead and start to apply some or all of the six techniques that I have listed above and you should see good results quite soon.
How has separation anxiety appeared in your baby and how has it affected you and your baby?
Have you had success with any of the techniques from this article or indeed in any other way?
Let me and the community know by leaving a comment below.