Separation anxiety: when suddenly (or not so suddenly) your baby becomes nervous whenever they lose sight of you! If you’ve experienced it, you’ve likely noticed that separation anxiety can impact all aspects of your baby’s life including nap and bedtime.
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Separation anxiety is a normal part of infant development. You may see increased clinginess, more crying, and even tantrums when you put your baby down, walk out of the room, or leave. I know it’s hard to handle, but it actually demonstrates normal development and secure attachment.
Separation anxiety can happen anytime from 4 months- 4 years. But, we often see the biggest surges between 8-10 months and again around 14-18 months.
Your little one’s brain is beginning to understand that when something goes out of sight, it still exists. This is called object permanence.
If you haven’t done this, take a little toy or a cheerio and place it under a cup. See what your little one does. Do they pick the cup up and look for it? That is object permanence.
Peek-a-boo is actually a version of a separation game. Playing peek-a-boo with your baby helps to reinforce that you do come back and offers a fun way to explore object permanence.
You can start small by going into another room for a short time or having Grandma watch her while you run to the grocery store. Practicing separations can give her opportunities to become comfortable for short times away from you and become more secure in knowing you'll return.
Let him see you leaving. Sneaking away can sometimes increase a baby’s fear or anxiety around separation. Letting him see you leave promotes feelings of trust and offers an opportunity to keep supporting your baby as his brain understands this new concept.
A hug, kiss, and “love you” is great. Remind her that you always come back. This can help the goodbye feel more predictable and gives your baby a recognizable routine.
He will mirror your confidence. Your baby follows your cues to understand what is “okay” in the world. Staying calm as you say a quick goodbye helps to reassure your baby that you leaving IS okay and that he go right back to playing when he can’t see you.
You can stay calm and acknowledge that this is hard for your baby. You could say something like “I know this is hard, and you want me to stay. I have to go. I love you, and I’ll be back soon.”
Just like with the goodbye routine, keeping consistent with your bedtime routine helps your baby prepare for separation. A familiar routine provides security and will help this stage pass quickly.
Especially if you’re seeing separation anxiety at bedtime or naptime, be sure to spend time in the nursery during awake time. Get dressed there, change diapers, or play with toys!
Changing things up may appear to make it easier in the short term, but any new tactics may become struggles you have to deal with long term. This is how a developmental stride turns into a full-blown sleep regression. Are you seeing a sleep regression? Check my blogs on the 8-10 month sleep regression, the 12 month sleep regression, the 18 month sleep regression, and the 24 month sleep regression.
If bedtime and naps are always a struggle or you need help getting back on track with sleep, The 5-24 Month Collection can help by giving you a plan with everything you need for great sleep. Need a place to start today? I’ve created a free resource with strategies to implement today that includes 5 Daytime Tips for Better Nights (and Naps!)
I want you to see that truth that we speak to our babies: they are taking it in. They might not be able to verbalize it back to you at 8 or 15 months, but they are listening.