Separation anxiety can rear its head when a baby is between 6 to 9 months old. Many parents worry that it will make sleep times worse and they call me not knowing what to do. Or I get a call saying their baby is now crying a lot at bedtime and no longer sleeping independently due to separation anxiety. I’d like to tell you though, that there is a way your baby can sleep as beautifully as they once did, whilst still going through that oh so common period of separation anxiety. I’ve seen many, many babies show signs of separation anxiety while still putting themselves to sleep independently and sleep through the night (my kids included!)
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety happens when a baby gains a sense of object permanence – which happens around 6 -9 months of age. Object permanence is when they begin to understand that objects and people exist even if they are not in the room or in their sight. Because they understand this they can start to get upset when mommy or daddy walks away. At this age, my kids would cry when I walk away or crawl at superhuman speed to chase me when I walked away!
Try to remember that separation is a normal and healthy part of a baby’s development. As hard as it is to have them cry when we go away, it is important to also celebrate a new period in their development!
How to help with separation anxiety.
There are things you can do to help a baby who is experiencing separation anxiety, both during their awake time and when it comes to sleep times.
During awake time:
Play peekaboo with them. This helps show them that when you go away you come back. Or hide objects under things – you or your baby can reveal them.
Give them a few minutes to play on their own while you leave to do something. This gives them opportunities to practice you going away and coming back. You can also narrate what you’re doing during the day: Mommy is going to get a drink, then I’ll be back.”
For sleep times:
Let your baby know that it is sleep time and you’ll see them when they wake up.
Keep calm even though you know they’ll get upset when you put them in the crib. If you are feeling anxious your baby will pick up on it and be more likely to feel anxious too. Babies feed off our emotions.
Make sure you’re very consistent with your bedtime and naptime routines. The consistency will help them know what to expect and be confident in the process. They will begin to understand that they do the routine, go to sleep and then they see you when they wake.
If they cry due to separation anxiety, have a plan on how you respond. Will you let them cry for a bit, will you check on them regularly or something else? Be consistent with your chosen response because if you go back in some of the time you are providing mixed messages and may increase their likelihood of upset at sleep times.
Separation anxiety won’t last forever, but there are different times in your baby’s (and soon to be toddler’s) development where it might increase. Having a solid plan for these periods will help you get through them so that you can continue to have a healthy, independent sleeper!