Understanding Separation Anxities In Babies

SEP 5, 2022

Separation Anxieties
In Babies

Does your child get anxious and cry when their caregiver is not around? I'm sure parents have heard the term "separation anxiety" before. What effect does separation anxiety have on sleep?

1. It's part of your kid's mental development

Separation anxiety usually appears when the baby is 6-8 months old and peaks after the age of 1 year. In other words, separation anxiety begins to emerge when children learn to crawl and peaks when they are about to start walking. Studies have shown that as a baby's range of exploration increases, it becomes more psychologically dependent on the caregiver. Just like when a baby is learning to crawl, they keep looking back to make sure mom is still there because they know that as long as they don't get too far away from mom, they won't be in danger. It's amazing how the Creator has designed human!

The reason for separation anxiety is related to the baby's beginning to understand "object permanence". "The term "object permanence" means that "items and people still exist even when you can't see or hear them.“
According to cognitive psychologist Piaget, babies begin to develop this concept at about 6-8 months of age and are fully developed by age 2. This argument explains why babies cry and even "search" for their mothers when they leave, because they are not sure if they will return.

2. Parenting itself is a process of separation.

If we look at the timeline of our parenting, we find that parenting itself is a form of separation. From being a part of the mother's body, to a child who needs our care, to recognizing their mothers as external objects separate from themselves, and transferring attachment to their comforting objects or interests. Then they make friends, leave for college, meet someone, start a family, and deal with their own circle of life. We can say that practicing separation is part of successful parenting, and that children eventually need to become independent and leave their parents to start their own lives (I can't help but feel sad when I’m writing this).

3. Don't avoid, practice.

Therefore, the point of facing separation anxiety is not to avoid separation, but to "practice separation". We want to help our children experience themselves as whole individuals and learn to be independent. But at the same time, we want the process to be gentle and not harmful to the baby's sense of security. Here are a few ways to deal with separation anxiety.



Playing hide-and-seek with your little ones could be one of the best practices. Let them know that after Mom and Dad disappear, they will reappear shortly after. Then extend the hiding time and let your kid gradually get used to the process.


Don't sneak away

Don't sneak away from your little ones just because you're afraid that your children will throw tantrums - they will eventually find out. If you don't notify your kids that you will leave them for a while and say goodbye, your child will feel even more insecure because they just don't know when you'll be gone again.


Create a goodbye ritual

When you leave, give your child a proper hug, a kiss, or a cute little hand-waving. Creating a goodbye ritual can help soothe both you and your child - but keep it short and simple so you can stick to it while you still can. Feelings of anxiety caused by sending the child to daycare or asking other adults to take care of the child for a short time can also be dealt with in this way.


Stay calm

When you’re leaving, hold your tears (I know it’s hard) and don't show too much emotion or presume that the child will get upset. If the parent leaves calmly and confidently, it also conveys to the child the idea that "it's not a big deal and there's no need to be stressed".


Show empathy

If your child gets upset when facing separation, you need to put yourself in their shoes and use soothing words to let them know you understand. Tell them it’s okay to cry and be sad when you leave, and you will be back in time. You are developing the ability to be aware of and express one’s feelings by doing so, and trust me, you will benefit greatly from this.

4. Separation anxiety & sleeping regression

The most common question asked during sleep counseling is: "Does separation anxiety affect sleep?" The answer is yes, but it's usually a temporary factor.

Babies may not want to sleep because they can't see their parents with their eyes closed. As a result, they may resist sleeping and cry before bedtime. However, we don't usually treat this as a major cause of sleep deprivation. If parents can manage such emotions and guide their children to develop a sense of sleep discipline, the sleep problems caused by separation anxiety are usually superficial and do not last long. But why do parents feel that their children are sleeping poorly because of separation anxiety?

A. Milestones & developments

As mentioned earlier, separation anxiety usually occurs when infants are 6-8 months old. During this time, babies are simultaneously experiencing some major developmental milestones -- especially in terms of mobility. For example, they are beginning to learn to roll (even in their sleep) and crawl, and are able to get into the sitting position without help. In addition, their language and communication skills begin to emerge, teething and babbling are all possible during this period, and these are all factors that contribute to sleep regression. Many parents mistakenly believe that their child's poor sleep is entirely due to separation anxiety. But the real cause should be comprehensive, not just because of the emotional rebound caused by separation anxiety.

B. Anxious first-time parents

This is one reason many parents don't notice. People's emotions affect each other, and primary caregivers have a significant impact on their children's emotions. In the first year of being a new parent, we experience uncertainty, fatigue, worry, and even depression. The baby will understand things through our emotions and behaviors, and if the mom or dad is panicked and helpless, they will pass that emotion on to the baby, making them cry even more.

Imagine being in a panic early in the morning when a company supervisor comes into the office with a sad face. The staff would feel bad and tense, wouldn't they?

C. Over-coaxing

If the little one does experience a sleep regression, anxious parents may increase the intensity and duration of coaxing or even decide to co-sleep with the baby. This may lead to the development of unhealthy sleep routines and habits, requiring longer hours of coaxing, and eventually creating long-term sleep problems.

5. Coping with separation anxiety at night

A. Maintain emotional balance

Your little angels need a supportive, trusting, gentle and determined caregiver, not someone who will stress over them. Before dealing with your baby, deal with your emotions. When the parent is emotionally stable, they can convey positive emotions to the child and have a clear understanding of what the child really needs.

B. Stick to the routine

As mentioned earlier, when children are experiencing sleep regression, parents tend to log more hours and do everything they can to put their children to sleep, which, in the long run, will develop very bad sleeping habits, delaying children's bedtime and increasing the burden on parents themselves. A reasonable approach is to stick to your nighttime routine, so your little one knows what to expect at bedtime.

C. Comfort your child - moderately

I know it’s hard -- your child's cries are heartbreaking, but you are also really concerned that excessive attention will make your little one more insecure.

It is still important that we respond appropriately to our children when they are experiencing sleep regression. We can give them hugs and kisses, sing them a simple lullaby -- but remember not to stay in the room too long. The more time you spend coaxing your child, the less likely he or she will fall asleep by himself. All we can do is respect and respond to their emotions and know when to leave the nursery, and not spend the whole night soothing them until they stop crying.

In conclusion, separation anxiety is a normal part of every child's development. We don't need to specifically avoid separation anxiety, but we do need to learn how to deal with it. Separation anxiety may temporarily affect your child's sleep, but the real impact is on the parents themselves. Mom and dad should provide appropriate emotional support and remain calm and confident throughout all interactions with their children. In this way, you will be able to safely overcome the effects of separation anxiety on your little angel's sleep.