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Is it a Sleep Regression? Or Separation Anxiety?

Does this sound like you? A few weeks ago, things were trudging along okay. In fact, you might even be as bold to say that your child was sleeping fairly well. You had a little routine, and sure it took some effort. Maybe some songs, a few stories and a cuddle to sleep…but it worked (most of the time anyways). 

But lately, nothing is working!

Or maybe you’ve been struggling all along (If this is you, I am sending virtual hugs Mama! Stick around, this blog may just help you too ;)) 

If you have a child who:

  • Will suddenly only sleep on or touching you in some way
  • Is taking foreverrrr to fall asleep – whether it is constant battles, or crying when you try to leave
  • Wake the second you leave their side… or
  • Needs A LOT more from you overnight than you’d like, with things like crying out, or sneaking into your bed

You are probably wondering what the heck is going on!?

Could this be a sleep regression?

Do Toddlers Even Have Sleep Regressions?

You might be wondering if your child is experiencing a sleep regression?

The truth is, there really isn’t even such a thing as a sleep regression!

Sure, sleep can go belly up now and again. This is quite common with babies around 4 to 5 months, and again around 7 to 9 months. Toddlers experience dips in sleep too, most often around 18 months, and 2 years old.  

But don’t get too caught up in the numbers. There really isn’t any predictability when it comes to sleep development. Scientists have been researching looking for patterns, but have had no luck!! (crazy right!?)

Sleep is not like a magical elevator where we all hop on, put in our time and eventually get to our destination. Nope, I’m afraid sleep is more complex than that.

Sleep is like a roller coaster ride through a corn maze. Only you are blind-folded, and have no idea what is to come, or when the ride will end.

In the medical world, regressions mean a loss of something. A return to a previous developmental level. Do you get less sleep, yup in some cases this happens. But your child has not actually lost the ability to sleep. 

It’s more like their brains and body are too busy working on other things. Learning and growing, developing brain cells, and forming relationships. It’s more like they’ve taken a different route on the ol roller coaster. 

Fun right!?

So no, your child is not experiencing a sleep regression?

If you’ve ruled out illness, and teething, it may actually be that your child is experiencing a developmental shift that is contributing to some separation anxiety.

How to Know If Separation Anxiety is Impacting Your Child’s Sleep?

Before you freak out, you should know that in most cases separation anxiety is normal. Pretty well all children experience it at some point in childhood. 

It’s common to see peaks of separation anxiety around 7 to 9 months, and between age 1 and 3 years. But it can happen at anytime, or even multiple times!

It has a lot to do with development and attachment, and when we think about it from an evolutionary perspective, on some level it helped to keep kids who were growing in independence from wandering out into danger.

Mother nature didn’t want all of our littles to be eaten by tigers afterall!

What Does Separation Anxiety Look Like?

During the day you might notice…

  • That your child is more clingy or whiney than usual
  • That they are less tolerant of receiving support from alternate caregivers (they only want YOU!)
  • Crying or upset whenever you leave their sight
  • Apprehension or fear in new situations, or among strangers

At night, you’ll likely notice one or more of the lovely examples I mentioned above…anything from a refusal to sleep, or increase in the number of awakenings, to a change in the amount of support normally needed.  

Fun right!?

So now what…?

How Can You Help Your Child with Separation Anxiety to Sleep Better?

Parenting is hard enough as it is, and becomes a heck of a lot harder when kids need more from us. 

So what can you do?

You’ll no doubt face massive pressure from family and friends (or even yourself) to make changes, and quickly – before any ‘bad habits’ start, or before they get ‘too dependent’ on you. 

Balarsky!

The truth is, if your baby or child is showing signs of separation anxiety, the best way to help them sleep is to support this need. 

While it is true that most kids will outgrow separation anxiety on their own. There are a number of ways that you can support them, while not losing your sanity!

Supporting Separation Anxiety Through Play

Practice mini separations – during the day – through play. Lift the flap books, and peek-a-boo for young ones, and games like hide and seek, or go, go, go stop for kids. Role play, or tell stories that resemble your family situation, but with happy, peaceful separations and reunions. Keep these short, sweet, and fun!

Changing Your Sleep Mindset

Re-Write your Story. Remind yourself that your child needs you. No, you are not spoiling them or making them more dependent! Reassure yourself that this is likely just another temporary blip that will restore itself in time. During the more challenging moments, it can help to use a mantra. I am a big fan of: “They aren’t giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time.” And don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate being loved so much by such an adorable little human!

Meeting Your Child Where They Are At

Don’t force it. This isn’t really a rip the Band-Aid off type of situation. Now is not the time to make big changes, whether to do with sleep, or daytime. Avoid sneaking away, or  pushing them to spend time with others. If you can, focus instead on meeting your child where they are at. For sleep this might mean cuddling them to sleep, or shifting to bed-sharing for a while. I know it’s tempting, but making changes with a goal towards independent sleep right now is likely to be a whole lot harder than it needs to be. 

And lastly… Just give it time 💕

Meeting your child’s needs in a gentle, supportive way is without a doubt the quickest and easiest way through this – for both of you!

If you are looking for more practical tips for your child’s sleep routine, then click here to sign up for my free Peaceful Bedtime Mini-Course. 

Maisie xx