We have detected Lahore as your city

What You Need to Know About Nighttime Separation Anxiety?

Ms. Nida Ghani

2 min read

Find & Book the best "Child Specialists" near you

Separation anxiety is a developmental stage in which infants and toddlers experience distress and anxiety on being separated from their parents, which they tend to express through inconsolable crying and stubbornness.

However, for most children, this anxiety also transitions into the night, and is a major cause of distress for both the parents and the child. Consult a child psychologist for a proper diagnosis.

Why It Happens?

In most children, separation anxiety first occurs between 7-8 months, then recurs at 18 months and/or 2 years. Between 0-6 months, babies are unable to distinguish between adults and have an underdeveloped sense of time and Object Permanence, i.e. the concept that an object continues to exist and doesn’t vanish when it cannot be seen or heard anymore; hence the ‘complacency’ that makes most babies this age easier to care for.

These senses start to develop after about 6 months, which is when children start growing attached to their parents. However, their as yet underdeveloped concept of object permanence makes them unable to grasp that their parents haven’t disappeared, only temporarily out of sight.

Moreover, the fact that they don’t know when their parents will return, as short and long time-spans are the same to toddlers and most infants, further fuels the distress, resulting in reluctance in going to other people, being dropped at the daycare, and of course, being left alone in their crib or room at night.

Dealing with It:

The multiple-nightly disruptions may seem permanent, but it is a completely normal phase that will resolve as a child’s brain develops. However, adopting the following habits can help ease the transition:

1-Develop A Bedtime Routine:

Help normalize bedtime and foster a sense of consistency and predictability by establishing a regular, soothing bedtime routine, such as getting a bath, brushing teeth, changing their clothes, tucking them in, dimming the lights, and storytelling. Follow the same timetable daily, and avoid rushing the process, however, as the chaos only triggers anxiety.

2-Watch Your Expressions:

It’s difficult to not feel resentment towards your child when these disturbances become a multiple-nightly affair, or worry about the impending crying before bedtime. But try to not let it show, as this will only reinforce their fears about bedtime.

Also, never direct the anger or irritation of sleepless nights towards your child, as this will make them feel rejected and bad about themselves, which will only fuel the anxiety, and breed future self-esteem issues.

3-Stay Put:

NEVER try to sneak away the moment your child starts feeling drowsy or is distracted. This breeds fear and insecurity, as the child learns that their loved ones will vanish the moment they look away. Instead, lovingly say goodbye and back out slowly. With toddlers, reassure them that you will come back again to check, and keep your word by reappearing after a few minutes (extend the gap every time).

4-Comfort, But Don’t Linger:

Do comfort your child during anxious, wakeful episodes by rubbing their back and reassuring them, but staying longer than necessary to calm them down instills bad habits that may interfere with the transition. So keep the reactions loving, but relatively short and dull.

For your toddler who walks to your room during the night, walk them back to their room, hug and tuck them in, explain gently that you will see them in the morning, and leave.

5-Teddy the Protector:

Designating their favourite stuffed toy or blanket as their friend and nightly companion can help most toddlers feel secure. Alternatively, you can also give the impression that the toy needs your child’s protection, which can help instill self-assurance and confidence.

6-Practice Object Permanence:

Certain daytime activities can help your child grasp the concept faster. These include Peek-a-boo, where you start by covering and revealing your face after a few seconds, gradually hiding behind furniture and going out of the room for 1-2 minutes at a time.

You can also practice saying goodbye while smiling and waving, going out of sight, and quickly coming back in with a smile, or putting a light cloth over their head, asking ‘where’s the baby?’, and pulling it of instantly. Soon your child will start taking it off themselves; their own version of peekaboo.

Nighttime separation anxiety should not be mistaken for separation anxiety disorder; a medical condition that can affect younger children and those above 6, and which is defined by anxiety and refusal to leave the parents’ side for fear of them disappearing or any harm befalling their parents should they leave them.

In such cases, do not hesitate to consult with a top pediatrician in Karachi, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your child’s developmental concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Ms. Nida Ghani - Author Ms. Nida Ghani is among the Best Psychologists in Lahore. Ms. Nida Ghani is a Psychologist practicing in Lahore. Over the last 3 years, she has been helping her patients deal with various mental and psychological conditions. You can get an appointment with her through oladoc.
Book Appointment with the best "Child Specialists"