Toddler separation anxiety at night is a common phenomenon for young children and one that will test your patience as a parent. The sooner you learn to recognize the signs of separation anxiety fear, the sooner you can begin to tackle it. Your child’s world is rapidly changing, with new experiences and people coming into their life all the time. As a result, they are going to feel insecure at times, especially when it comes to sleeping alone or being separated from you in any way. Left unchecked, toddler separation anxiety at night can lead to serious problems later on in their development.
The good news is that this challenging phase doesn’t last forever and almost always passes within short time. Here are some effective ways to help your little one overcome toddler separation anxiety without too much stress for you both!
What is toddler separation anxiety at night?
Toddler separation anxiety at night occurs when a child is afraid of being away from their parent at night. This can happen when your child wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to be close to you, or when they wake up early and want to stay in their bed. The most common signs of toddler separation anxiety at night are –
The most likely reason for this type of sleep problems is that your child is worried that something bad will happen while they are sleeping. This could include things like falling out of bed, suffocating under blankets, frightening thoughts or being abducted by aliens. The more concerned your child feels about these things, the more cortisol (the stress hormone) he will produce. Cortisol levels increase during stressful situations, and this can cause sleep issues.
Signs of toddler separation anxiety at night
Separation anxiety at night is a very real phenomenon that affects one-third of all U.S. children between the ages of 3 and 10 years old. In some cases, separation anxiety can be a sign of more serious behavior problems, including depression and bipolar disorder. Below are signs of toddler separation anxiety at night
Night wakings is a common sign of separation anxiety disorder. Your toddler may wake up at night and cry out for you, even if you are only a few feet away. This behavior can be very disruptive to your toddler’s sleep cycle. If night-waking continues, seek help from a pediatrician so that your child can learn to self-soothe.
In addition to night waking, other signs of nighttime separation anxiety at night include:
- Refusal to go to bed
- Refusal to sleep alone
- Restlessness or crying during the night
- Discomfort sleeping in unfamiliar places (like on the couch)
- Refusing to play with toys or engage in other activities in the evening hours
- Nighttime hunger and thirst
- Scary thoughts and nighttime fears
6 Effective tips on how to handle toddler separation anxiety at night
Your toddler is growing up and he needs a solid night of sleep in order to grow and develop optimally. Bedtime issue is a part of the normal emotional development of your baby. It is time you start thinking about nap time and bedtime routines for your toddler. If your toddler rushes to you the moment you walk into their room, throwing their arms around you so that they can remain close by at all times; or if they rush to the door when you leave their room after tucking them in – then it’s high time you read on to know how to handle baby’s separation anxiety at night.
Establish a Routine
The first thing to conquering toddlers separation anxiety at night is to establish a regular bedtime routine. This is important for many reasons, but most importantly it gives your child a sense of security and predictability. A regular daily schedule with consistent naps and bedtimes will help your child feel like some things in their life don’t change, no matter what else might be going on. If you notice your child is struggling with separation anxiety, try setting a consistent bedtime routine and sticking to it as closely as possible.
Another way to encourage a sense of routine and familiarity is to have a certain place in your home where your child can go to feel safe. This could be a little tent they can crawl into or a spot on the floor where they can play with their toys and feel comfortable. Any comfort item that could help reduce bedtime anxiety.
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Give your child a sense of control
Toddler separation anxiety at night can sometimes be a reaction to feeling out of control in general. At this age, your child is also developing their sense of autonomy, which is great. You want them to feel confident in themselves and able to make choices and decisions themselves. However, if they feel too overwhelmed to take on new challenges, it can lead to anxiety and stress.
For example, if you have to leave your child in daycare, they may feel out of control. This can lead to child’s separation anxiety, where your child might cry and be highly distressed when you leave them in the daycare setting. To avoid this, try to give your child a sense of control when you can. For example, when you leave your child at daycare, hold their hand or put them in a hug and tell them you love them. Let them know you appreciate them and that you trust them to be safe and make new friends. This will help your little one feel more in control of what’s happening and less stressed.
Help your child feel safe and secure
Many parents have found that music can be an effective way to help their kids cope with toddler separation anxiety. Make a playlist that your child is familiar with and plays it every night before bedtime. You can even add some white noise to the background to help your child sleep better. Make sure the volume is not so loud that it might disturb the rest of your household.
Your child’s crib or bed should also be a safe and secure space for them to sleep in. Make sure their bed is sturdy and there are no loose objects or toys that could fall on them and cause injury. Toddler separation anxiety can sometimes lead to increased risk-taking behaviors, like climbing out of their crib or bed. To avoid this, you may want to invest in a crib tent or a bed tent or a crib rail cover.
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Try a sensory activity before bedtime
Many children, particularly those with anxiety disorders, respond very well to sensory activities. They can help your child not only sleep better but also feel better in general, as they are great for reducing stress and regulating emotions. A great example of a sensory activity that can help your child cope with toddler separation anxiety is a calming bubble bath.
Other great sensory activities for bedtime that can help reduce anxiety include taking a warm bath, listening to soft music, meditating, and using a weighted blanket. Taking a warm bath is a great way to help your child feel relaxed and calm before bed. It’s best to avoid any harsh scents and go for something like lavender or chamomile to help your child relax more.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings without making them worse
When your child is experiencing separation anxiety, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings without making them worse. Avoid phrases like, “you don’t have to cry,” or “you don’t need to be scared.” This can make your child feel more insecure and anxious. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and let your child know they are normal.
For example, you might say, “you seem sad that I am leaving.” If your child is feeling scared or apprehensive, tell them, “I see you are scared when I leave.” Finally, if your child seems angry, you can say, “you seem so mad when I leave.” After you’ve acknowledged your child’s feelings, you can try to distract them. This could be as simple as reading to your child for a few minutes before bedtime.
Strategies to help ease anxiety at child’s bedtime
As mentioned above, one way to help your child feel more at ease when you have to leave them is to have a safe place for them to go and play at home. This could be a little tent or a cozy spot on the floor where your child feels comfortable and can be alone with their toys if they need to regroup. Another tempting way to help your child feel better when you have to leave is to offer lots of extra cuddling and affection beforehand.
It’s best to avoid this, as it can make your child more anxious. Finally, when you leave your child, try to make it as easy on them as possible. Turn down the lights, reduce noise, and offer a soothing calmness. Your child will pick up on your stress, which is the last thing you want.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of normal developmental milestone. Parents can help their children cope with their anxieties by providing a consistent, loving environment and a healthy sleep routine. Parents can also help their children overcome their anxieties by letting them know that their feelings are normal and providing them with a safe place to play when they are alone.
14 thoughts on “6 Easy tips on how to handle toddler separation anxiety at night”
Hhhhmmmm…alright then! This has been good knowledge to take with me today about separation anxiety. Thanks for sharing it.
This is an interesting topic, I will share this with my family. Thank you for sharing!
A friend of mine is going through this at the moment. Her wee one has just started to walk, so not quite full-blown toddler yet, but she is very clingy. It makes it very difficult for Nat to get outside or to even go to work most days, never mind get to sleep at night.
I’ll have to forward this on to her!
Separation is one of the toughest things for a new parent. I would not know how to handle separation from my kid but thank you for the tips. At least I have an idea now. It’s great to start with establishing routines.
This can definitely be a big struggle! I remember all the bedtime frustrations. These are good strategies to try.
I think every parent goes through this with their kids. With mine, it was a matter of just getting them to fall asleep and after that, they were fine. Playing soft music did the trick.
I wish I’d had this when my kids were little. Every single one of them struggled with this.
My younger son was just diagnosed with separation anxiety when we were at his pediatrician for his ADHD and anxiety. He noted that as one of the factors for him. He’s never had it at night, though. He actually tells us he doesn’t want anyone in his room and doesn’t even have weekend sleepovers with his brother. We did start a bedtime routine extremely early, though, so that may have helped.
Bedtime routine is always helpful. Following a routine is great to manage body clock
Great list of useful tips! My kids are older now (9 & 13) but I remember when they went through this stage. It was difficult at times trying to leave for work.
Toddler age is quite an inquisitive one