6 tips from a sleep expert to easy your kids’ night-time separation anxiety

Almost all toddlers go through separation anxiety at some point – it’s a normal part of their development. They usually get very clingy and cry a lot when you drop them off at crèche, or granny’s house because they know they won’t see you for a while. It’s hard leaving your child like that, but luckily this phase doesn’t last forever. But, that being said, your toddler will also go through a stage where she has night-time separation anxiety – she’ll beg and cry for you to stay with her when it’s bedtime as well.

ALSO SEE: Ages and stages of separation anxiety

Why does my toddler want to be with me all the time?

“Toddlers still need to develop their inner confidence to feel more secure when parents are not present, says Una van Staden, a sleep expert and owner of Pikanini Baby Academy. “At this age, your child doesn’t have a strong sense of time, so she doesn’t know when you’ll return. A toddler interprets the amount of time, whether you’re leaving them in a room for a few minutes or at daycare for a few hours, as the same. When an object (or in this case you) is hidden from sight, toddlers often become upset that the item has vanished for good. To help with separation anxiety, your toddler needs to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard,” explains Una. She says you should always say goodbye to your toddler when you leave her at school or granny’s house. “By sneaking out, she experiences anxiety when she realises that you’re no longer there.”

How does it affect sleep?

Most toddlers who experience separation anxiety are unsettled at nap or bedtimes. They also stop sleeping through the night and often wake up crying, wanting attention from you. While toddler separation anxiety at night means that you won’t get much sleep, remember that it’s just a phase that will pass.

In the meantime try these tips from Una:

  • Spend quality time with your toddler during the day, such as playing floor games or reading stories.
  • Play more games that include object permanence. Examples are hide and seek and peekaboo.
  • Don’t rush bedtime. Set aside at least 45 minutes for a bath and bedtime routine.
  • Settle your child in the bed you want them to sleep in for the night, so you don’t have to move them.
  • Should your toddler walk through to your room, walk her back to her room, give her a hug and explain that it’s bedtime and you will see her in the morning.
  • Give her a favourite stuffed animal as a soother and sleep companion to help her settle.

ALSO SEE: 5 toddler sleep problems sorted

It will be difficult to hear your toddler cry out at night for you, but remember that separation anxiety has a positive aspect: it shows that you and your toddler have formed a solid bond and she doesn’t want to be away from you.

More about the expert:

Una van Staden was a high school educator for 10 years before her daughter, Amy was born. She’s the proud owner of Pikanini Baby Academy, and has been trained by childhood expert Karen van Zyl. The Pikanini Brand has become a recognized and trusted source that promises expert, professional advice and services in the early childhood development field. Learn more about Una van Staden here.

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