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Separation Anxiety and Sleeping

Beginning in the second half of the first year, separation anxiety can cause many nights with disrupted sleep. During this stage (which can last for several months), a baby or toddler may wake several times and cry anxiously for one or both parents, often expressing a strong preference for one.

This is a normal stage in children’s emotional development and needs to be managed with a loving and consistent approach. Separation anxiety usually fades away somewhere around the second birthday. Until it does, your child may need reassurance several times night after night.

To deal with separation anxiety as a whole, here are a few steps that you can take:

  • No matter how young your baby is, let her know in a matter-of-fact way when you have to leave her. Even if you’re only going into another room for a minute, tell her, “I’ll be right back.” One day she’ll surprise you with her own “Right back!” when she’s leaving you for a while.
  • Play peekaboo and games in the mirror; this helps your baby to understand that mommy and daddy go away and come back.
  • Create a diversion to distract your baby’s attention when you leave. A babysitter can help with that by sharing a new toy, giving your baby a bath, or showing your baby her reflection in the mirror. Then say goodbye and leave as quickly as possible.
  • When you go out in the evening, try to use a familiar babysitter. If you must use a new one, ask her to arrive before the child’s bedtime and allow a little time for getting acquainted. Many parents make it a rule to employ a regular babysitter one night a week and plan their social activities accordingly. Children usually find it easy to accept such a separation when it is part of a predictable routine.
Last Updated
Sleep: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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