Babies reach a significant developmental milestone around eight months old when they understand object permanence. Before the concept of object permanence, babies believe that objects just “vanish.” But after they gain object permanence, infants comprehend that an object or person has a physical location, even if it isn’t right in front of them. That idea offers the possibility that something could vanish and not reappear, which is terrible for a baby who totally depends on another person.
While it can start as early as four months old in some newborns, separation anxiety rarely manifests itself until about eight months. Daytime symptoms of separation anxiety include clinginess, being wary of strangers, and sobbing anytime a parent leaves the room. It may take the form of multiple nightly awakenings and temper tantrums in the evening.
The good news is that when children understand time and trust about age three, separation anxiety typically goes away. What can you do right away to lessen your child’s tension at night? Here are some pointers:
Give many hugs: You might assume that getting more hugs throughout the day will make the separation anxiety at night worse, but that isn’t always the case. Your baby will sleep better at night if you incorporate lots of extra daytime cuddles like reading books, cuddling on the couch, infant massage, and other one-on-one activities immediately before bed.
Play games that impose item permanence: Playing games that enforce object permanence is a great way to spend some quality playtime and combat separation anxiety. Playful activities like hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo, and find-the-toy can teach your infant that people and things are still there, even if they are hidden from view.
Maintain your composure: Coping with a baby who is acting out before bed is one of the most stressful things you can go through. Babies have a propensity for picking up on stress in adults. Maintaining a positive attitude and a grin on your face is one of the best things you can do. Speak soothing words to your youngster, but avoid fussing over him or showing signs of worry. When your child is sad, it’s acceptable to console him, but avoid developing new routines that you’ll later have to break.
Establish a regular nighttime routine: This will reduce your child’s separation anxiety. Maintaining a brief, the regular nighttime routine might help your child feel prepared for sleep. Children find comfort in having a schedule that varies a little from day to day.
Put your infant to bed when still awake but drowsy: It can be tempting to rock, hold hands with, or breastfeed your child to sleep before transferring him to his crib. Consider this: what if his last memory of you is of him falling asleep with you, and he awakens without you in a different location? Anyone would become anxious after hearing that!
Sleep train: When a child has separation anxiety, it is entirely appropriate to employ any of the many various sleep training techniques. In fact, a child who struggles to sleep through the night owing to worry may benefit from several sleep training strategies. The Cry It Out technique works the quickest, but not every child or parenting style will benefit from it. There are even other no-cry approaches, like Ferber sleep training, which is a softer approach that takes a few extra days to complete.
Separation anxiety is a difficult condition for both parents and children, but it’s a typical developmental milestone and a sign of a strong caregiver-child bond. The good news is that you can take steps to reduce the tension and that separation anxiety doesn’t endure forever. Even when separation anxiety is present in full force, our pediatric sleep trainers have a wealth of expertise in assisting children and parents in attaining great sleep. Please get in touch with us right away if you need help or inspiration.