Many parents wonder what to do about sudden sleep problems that erupt when their baby is having some separation anxiety. Very often, even the best sleeper will start to protest going into the crib and/or wake up in the middle of the night just to check in with mom or dad. Typically, babies begin to show signs of separation anxiety somewhere between 6 and 9 months, often around the time they are getting ready to crawl or have just begun to move across space. Once this awareness sets in, bouts of anxiety will come and go throughout life...even once your child has gone to college! After all, who hasn't "needed their mommy" when they're feeling vulnerable from time to time?
One of the greatest pieces of advice is to deal with separation issues during the DAY so that the baby will feel more secure at NIGHT. Here are some tips on how to help junior cope, excerpted from the book I co-wrote entitled "The Sleepeasy Solution--The Exhausted Parent's Guide to Getting Your Child to sleep--from Birth to Age 5. "
1) Play peek-a-boo games. Play lots of games with your baby during the day that allow her to practice object permanence, or learning that when people or things are out of sight, they still exist. (She won't fully master this concept until age 2.) Engage her in activities that focus on disappearing and reappearing, such as peek-a-boo, jack-in-the-box, or hiding a toy under a blanket and then taking away the blanket so she can see it again. This way, she'll learn that Mommy and Daddy too, go away but always come back.
2) Always tell your child when you're leaving. You'll want to communicate all of your separations to your child for the time being. Although it can be tempting to sneak out of the house to avoid a traumatic, tear-filled separation of Scarlett and Rhett proportions, doing so will only make your baby's anxiety worse; at some point he'll look to find you, won't be able to, and won't understand where you've gone, why you've gone, or whether you're ever coming back. Instead, be sure to tell him that you're leaving--and if his anxiety is very strong, you'll want to do so even if you're just going to the bathroom or into the kitchen to make dinner. Get right down on his level, make eye contact, and say, "Hi, sweetie. Mommy's going to the bathroom for a few minutes, and I'll be right back!" Let him fuss and squawk for the few minutes you're gone, then come back and check in again: "Here I am honey! I missed you too." It's not a good idea to keep him attached to your hip throughout the day, even if he seems to prefer that right now, because if he has no chance to practice feeling apart from you during the day, you can bet he'll save it all up for sleep time. (Translation: when you put him down for sleep, he'll make you feel like you're doing a mariachi dance on his tiny, broken heart.)
3) Give your child a lovey. If you don't already have one, this is an excellent time to introduce a transitional object or a lovey (small blanket or stuffed animal) that your child forms an attachment to because it reminds her of you.
4) Lengthen your bedtime routine. Plan to spend a little extra time with him at nap time and bedtime, tacking on an extra 5 to 15 minutes to your normal routine. Give him lots of lap time; hold and cuddle and kiss him so he really feels your closeness. The extra time will also help him wind down his busy body before sleep.