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Separation Anxiety May Be Affecting Your Toddler’s Sleep

by Tina Goldsmith 21/01/2020
separation anxiety affecting toddler sleep

And, chances are, if your toddler won’t sleep…  you won’t be getting enough either. Let’s take a look at how Separation Anxiety can affect sleep, and what can be done about it.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Before anything else, we need to observe that Separation Anxiety is completely normal! In fact, it shows that your infant/toddler has a strong bond with their parent. During late infancy and early toddlerhood, it is common for children to begin to express this emotional preference to be with their primary caregiver. This can manifest itself in many ways. Most commonly: tears and tantrums at the daycare door, bedtime battles, and an unwillingness to be alone at night. 

Acknowledging Your Child’s Feelings

There is near universal agreement amongst healthcare professionals that the best way to deal with Separation Anxiety is to acknowledge your child’s distress, but not give into it. Stay calm, explain that you will be together again after nursery or sleeptime and talk about the things that you will do together when you are reunited.

Nobody is at their rational best when faced with a screaming child. But, if you can, try and follow the advice above and avoid any of these behaviours that may lead to further troubles down the line:

  • Ignoring your child’s tears
  • Becoming emotional or upset yourself 
  • Making rash promises of treats for “good” behaviour
  • Giving in to your child’s demands

Separation Anxiety and Sleep

A lot of the advice around dealing with Separation Anxiety is focussed on minimising the distress a child feels when being left with secondary caregivers such as a nursery or childminder. However, Separation Anxiety is also common around bedtime and during the night. Indicators include demands that a particular parent oversees the bedtime routine, or the child’s regular appearance in your bedroom in the middle of the night. 

Develop a Routine

A consistent calm approach is key here, too. You may have to explain that ill-favoured parent is doing bedtime tonight and preferred parent will do it tomorrow night (by which time, hopefully, these assigned roles won’t have swapped!) Develop a routine that works for your family and stick to it! Here are some tips on developing a good bedtime routine.

One relatively easy step you can take is to make the bedroom an inviting and pleasant sleep environment. This can be achieved by:

  • Reducing visual clutter
  • Minimising exterior light pollution through the use of curtains or blackout blinds
  • Making sure the room is neither too hot, nor too cold (18 degrees is optimal)
  • Introducing a soft toy or blanket that has strong sleep associations

The idea is to get your child to see their bed as an appealing place to be, and this will help to reduce their anxiety should they wake in the night. 

toddler asleep in cosy snuggle sac

The Toddler Snuggle Sac was designed with this in mind. Company founder, Tina Goldsmith, was looking for a way to encourage her toddler to stay in bed through the night. She hit upon the idea of combining the personality of a teddy bear, the comfort of a security blanket and the cosiness of a sleeping bag. Twenty years later, hundreds of thousands of cosy character-themed Snuggle Sacs have been sold around the world!

Read one parent’s account of how Snuggle Sac helped his toddler to sleep through the night.

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