Separation anxiety at bedtime

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Separation anxiety at bedtime

Postby Missmary » Wed 13 Feb, 2013 7:48 pm

Hi. My 25 month old was up until recently really easy to put to bed. Our routine is dinner, bath, play, book, milk & bed. But 2 weeks ago we started day care (just a couple hrs a day) and since then bedtimes have become a nightmare.

She clings onto me tightly and screams when I put her down and when I leave the room the hysterical screaming begins. Crying out "mummy mummy mummy" for 45mins+. I don't know what the best way of dealing with it is. I'm hesitant to stay with her until she falls asleep in case she will then forever need me to be there. But it also breaks my heart listening her to crying.

Any help and suggestions to tackle this would be much appreciated!

Many thanks
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Re: Separation anxiety at bedtime

Postby NgalaOnline » Thu 14 Feb, 2013 5:49 pm

Hi MissMary

Thank you for your post. It does sound as though you and your little girl are going through a hard time right now. You may find the following post which deals with very similar issues to be helpful: viewtopic.php?f=46&t=13860&sid=44eabd074260dfd4a9be697354a23635#p12674

It sounds as though your little girl typically has some strong sleep and settling skills, and that you provide a calming wind down routine for her in the evenings. It does sound as though the regression in settling your little girl is experiencing is in response to beginning daycare. It is very common for changes or new events in a toddler's life such as beginning daycare, moving house, the birth of a new sibling, travelling or illness to have an impact on their sleep and settling. At these times the child is often feeling a sense of insecurity and they may feel unsure about how to adapt to the changes that have happened in their life. It is very common for toddlers undergoing big changes to require extra reassurance and security from their parents, particularly at bedtime. A child feeling separation anxiety is experiencing genuine fear at that time. If your child is adapting to being separated from you when she attends daycare she may be experiencing some insecurity over not being sure when you will be present and when you will not be. It is common for toddlers to understand more than they are able to verbalise, so telling her at bed time that mummy is going to be nearby all night may provide some reassurance for her. Letting her know where you are in the house may be helpful, such as letting her know you will be just outside her room in the kitchen / loungeroom etc, and that you will still be there when she wakes up in the morning.

If your child is experiencing fear and anxiety about settling at night at the moment it is important to provide her with reassurance and comforting, but in a way that does not create new lasting habits that would be difficult to break. Some parents find that it is possible to attend their child, spend some time by her bedside soothing and reassuring her, and then leaving again when she is calm. Other parents find that if their child is feeling very anxious, their child may become too distressed for them to be able to leave the room. In this case, often the best way of providing the reassurance your child is temporarily needing is to sit on the floor or on a chair in her line of view - either at the doorway if that is acceptable to her or in her room. It is helpful to explain to your child that mummy will be staying nearby to help her feel safe and calm, but that it is sleep time and mummy is not going to be talking or playing. Sitting with your back to your child or your eyes down can help. It is very common for toddlers to be excited or intrigued by this at first and try to entice their parent into interacting and engaging. It is best not to enter into frequent conversations (even those which are directing your child to lie down or go to sleep) or to frequently get up to lie your child back down or tuck her in. It is best to go into this approach with the expectation that it may take your child several hours to settle the first night or several night, and that she may try lots of different ways of getting you to engage with her. Calmly and patiently ignoring attention seeking behaviours, and possibly reminding your child that it is time to sleep every ten or twenty minutes or so is often the best approach. Usually children learn the boundaries of this approach within several nights and then begin to settle quickly once they realise that mum is not in the room to play or chat at this time.

Sitting in your child's room during their settling time can be frustrating and is not a long term plan, but it is often what children require to help them feel secure enough to go to sleep whilst they are in the middle of a unsettling change in their life or are experiencing a peak of separation anxiety. Sitting in your child's view but without physically touching / rocking / patting etc will not become a sleep association as your child is still using your own methods to settle herself, you are just providing the reassurance she needs to feel comfortable to do this. After several days when you feel your child's anxiety is beginning to settle you can begin transitioning back out of the room again, moving your chair closer to the door each night. Once you are sitting in the doorway you can begin taking brief excursions from the chair, explaining to your child that you are just going to the toilet or to put something in the kitchen etc, but that you will return. Returning after a short period away such as 30 seconds helps your child to understand that you can leave but you will still be nearby and will return. You can then begin extending the length of time that you are away from the chair. Discussing during relaxed times in the day (separate from bedtime) your child's fears and that mummy is always neaby at night time may help.

It is very common for children to take several weeks to adjust to beginning child care. It is very likely that with continued exposure to daycare she will soon begin to feel for secure and familiar with daycare, resulting in less separation anxiety at night time. I hope that this information is helpful and that your little girl finds night time settling easier soon.
This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the personalized assistance that can be received from the Ngala Helpline by telephone.

For families residing in Western Australia you can also contact the
Ngala Helpline
Telephone 9368 9368 or 1800 111 546 for country access
Available 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm
or request a callback online

For helplines in other Australian states please follow this link
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