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Connection when anxious

The clinginess, the whinging, the tears, the emotional rollercoaster that is separation anxiety. It’s beautifully chaotic and incredibly heavy at the same time.

Separation anxiety is very normal in our babies and toddlers! Throughout the first 2 years there are a number of developmental progression periods where anxiety can peak; around 8/9 months and again around 18 months. It can also appear during periods of significant change in our little peoples world; like starting daycare, a new sibling arrives or you move house. Little people have HUGE emotions!

What does separation anxiety look like?

It’ll likely be present day and night, with a heightened period around naps and bedtime. Your once independent little love may be incredibly needy, follow you around all day and become quite upset when you leave them and you’re out of sight. Seemingly small tasks like going to the toilet on your own will see a stage 5 meltdown.

At nap time and bedtime your baby will find the separation extra hard – they know it’s the longest time apart from you that they have! Big emotions creep in, bedtime stalling appears and their need for extra connection is real.

Above all else meet their emotional needs with your responsive connection. Periods of anxiety are not a good time to make big changes such as transitioning them into their own room, increasing time apart, rushing goodbyes or skipping part of their wind down routine before sleep time.

How can we help them?

First and foremost, increase connection! If your little one is between 8-10 months they are likely learning about object permanence and this can see some heightened periods of anxiety. Object permeance is when your little love is learning that things and people come and go in their world. If they can’t see you, do you still exist? If you hide a toy under a blanket where does it go? If you can imagine how overwhelming that would feel to your child you’ll have a better understanding as to what they might be feeling. Playing games such as peek a boo, hide and seek and chase (where you disappear around the corner before reappearing) will help build their understanding that just because they can’t see you doesn’t mean you aren’t there anymore.

Offering more connection pre sleep time will help as well. It might be a bath together, skin on skin cuddles, extra stories or games and anything that you know will see their heart burst and their love cup overfill. The more connection they have the less room for feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious.

Offering a predictable routine will help support them to know what to expect. Just because they might be tired doesn’t mean you should rush through their usual sequence of events. Skipping connection or story time will see a heightened level of anxiety. Stick to your usual routine so they know what to expect and feel a little more in control. Be present. Put your phones away, turn any screens off and really give them your full attention.

Introduce a comforter – introducing a tangible sleep prop or lovey can really help your baby. It provides them something that they can hold on to, snuggle into and take with them that reminds them of you, home and a safe place. Comforters are a great prop to take to daycare or if your little one is staying elsewhere or you are leaving them in someone’s else’s care.

Support your little one positively, avoiding negativity or criticism. Encourage their self-esteem with positive attention and make a real effort to support how well they did spending time with someone else and being brave when you were apart.

Practise the separation – start small. Games as mentioned above can increase in time spent out of sight as your little one gets used to the proximity. Always, always, always (did I mention always?) say goodbye. Never leave your little one without letting them know you are leaving. Even if they are knee deep in slime at daycare and thoroughly enjoying themselves, none the wiser if you did leave, always say goodbye. Imagine going to a BBQ with a loved one and then realising half an hour later they had left without so much as a goodbye? Goodbyes are key, but so to is a swift and confident one. Give them a kiss and cuddle, tell them you will be back shortly and leave… don’t loiter for another 10min talking to teachers etc as this will be confusing for your baby. If they (or you!) are upset upon parting you can always ring daycare 10 min later and check in. They will have no doubt moved on from the teary goodbye and be happily absorbed in play again.

Keep consistent, ride the wave and know that you are filling their love and attention cup just as much as you are meeting those responsibilities as their everything.

Whatever your goals, whatever areas of sleep and settling you would like to work on Little Dreamers is here for you. Reach out, book a discovery call and let's chat about how we can best support your family.

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