We've all heard about, and many of us have already lived through bouts of separation anxiety with our little ones, but what is the best thing to do when we're in the thick of it?
Our little ones will go through many bouts of heightened separation anxiety as they grow and develop and the first thing to say is that this is a very normal and healthy part of their development, and not anything we need to worry about.
Why Does Separation Anxiety Happen?
At around 7 – 10 months is when your little one starts to understand that when they can't see you, you still exist - hello object permanence, and so naturally will continue to seek you out.
They may also worry that you might not be coming back and may often check that you are still there and that you will come back if you leave their side – hello night waking and calling out for you.
They might also become really distressed when you leave the room when before, they would have happily sat and played and not taken too much notice.
It’s really important and helpful to remember that sleep is also a huge separation from you – hello difficult naps or bedtimes.
So, How Can We Help Them Through This?
The best thing you can do through a bout of separation anxiety (there may be more as they grow and develop too) is give them that extra support and connection that they so evidently crave and need.
Bridge the separation with connection:
Even if your little one isn’t speaking yet – tell them about the next time you will see them, and about how much you’re looking forward to it.
Lots of focused 1-1 connection time before bed and during the day:
Eye contact Physical touch
Co-bathing Baby massage if that’s something your little one enjoys, or maybe just gentle/soft tickling Playing peek-a-boo Practicing small bursts of separation – hiding under something or putting a muslin over their heads Lift the flap books Giving them a comforter or muslin that smells of you to fall asleep with (and removing once they're asleep until the age of 1)
And How Can We Help Oursleves Through This Too?
Periods of separation anxiety can be really intense (more intense than normal parenting – yikes!) and so in order to help them through this as best we can, we really need to look after ourselves
Notice I said In order to: that’s the really important bit to note – we can’t pour from an empty cup or hold space for our little ones, if we don’t have any space left ourselves.
Looking after ourselves as parents is paramount to being able to give our best efforts to looking after our little ones.
So, here are a few ideas for when you’re feeling touched out or just overwhelmed by being so needed:
#1 Proactively carve out time for yourself when you can replenish your cup – doing something that makes you feel happy (refer to your ‘ME LIST’ – Watch this if you don’t know what I’m talking about: Reel - I made a ME LIST ).
#2 Tag Team with your partner (if you have one) or rope in friends and family, more than usual. It can be hard to relinquish responsibility when it's likely that they’ll be upset at your parting, but they will calm down with a loving caregiver, as soon as they become preoccupied with something else, AND, it also allows Dad (or grandparents / aunties etc) to have 1-1 time with your little one which I’m so sure they will both love and appreciate.
#3 It's ok to moan about your situation – we don’t have to love every second (in fact it's so normal to dislike many parts of parenting – that’s ok). Let out your frustrations either by writing them down or having a good old natter with a good listener: a friend, family, your partner. Tell them that you're not looking for solutions, you just want to be listened to and validated.
#4 Get out and about – getting out of the house helps most situations and this one included. If they’ll happily sit in the pram and take in the world for a bit of non physical contact time for you – even better! Plan things like classes, or activities to help get you out. getting out might be a bit of a shit show - when isn't it, but once you're out that fresh air and daylight will absolutely help.
#5 Ask for help – listen, asking for help is hard, I get it, I feel it too – BUT what you're probably not taking into consideration is that people who love you are dying to help out, especially when you need it, so please don’t feel guilty or worried that you’re putting someone out. You’d jump a the chance to help a friend out, wouldn't you? So, ask a friend to come over to occupy your babe while you enjoy not being touched or needed for a while. You will likely need to be there if they get upset by you leaving the room, but hopefully someone they know and are comfortable with will be able to occupy them AND listen to you have a good moan – two birds and all that!
#6 Know that it will end. Every phase will come to an end. This is sometimes not great to hear when you’re IN IT and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I promise, you will get there.
I also want to remind you that YOU’RE DOING AMAZINGLY and I-hand-on-heart mean that.
And before I go...
If you feel like you’d benefit from some responsive, truly gentle and non-judgmental sleep support then book in a free 15 minute chat to see how I can help