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The Separation Anxiety

What is it, when does it occur and how can you help ease it?

Here in this blog I will discuss this hard transition we all go through as parents and ways to help your child through it. Whilst it is a lovely to know that your child wants you, they are showing attachment and love to you, it can also be exhausting. You may never be able to leave the room to go to the bathroom let along go out for the afternoon on your own for some well-earned Mummy/Daddy time without hearing cries and screams and the sound of those little feet chasing after you down the hall.

I am not going to pretend that it is easy or enjoyable 100% of the time. I have been there. Twice over. It is hard. A very close friend of mine had to put off their daughter starting nursery because the separation anxiety was so strong not even the nursery could help distract and entertain her daughter and Mum had to be called to collect her. This went on for over a year and a half. And that takes its toll on you mentally, emotionally and physically. It can affect relationships with in the family home as well. Now let’s try to understand what your child is actually going through here, what they understand and what they don’t. There are two learning curves here.


They occur around the same time but are two different things. SEPARATION ANXIETY As you baby grows and develops they become more aware of the “distance” between you and them. We must remember they live in the here and now, and not the “later”! That is why when you leave the room they may cry because they do not understand you will come back. They get upset because they love you and need you to be with them, next to them, playing with them, ALL DAY LONG! This can affect sleep. Many children struggle to sleep independently because they need to be near their parent/s. When this happens you know your baby is developing their awareness to the world around them. This is a positive development even though you may feel slightly drained by it! WHEN MAY YOU SEE THIS DEVELOPMENT? It usually starts around 8 months, which is why you may also see a shift, a change in your little ones sleeping patterns around this time (see my blog on 8 months sleep progression HERE) This development may only last a few weeks but it can last for many months and I have known parents as I mentioned above that have tried to settle their child into nursery and it just did not happen, they thought a child minder would be more suitable, a smaller environment, calmer and quieter than a nursery setting, yet still it did not happen. This may continue for a few months and can peak around 18 months. Your baby may also be very wary of strangers around them and to top it off they certainly do not even want to be held by your best friend!


Now what it is this? This again, a normal part of cognitive development that your child will go though. It is an awesome positive development and a milestone to mark! Put simply it is when a child sees something, like you, a toy, a pet, a person and when that “thing” leaves the room or disappears they know it still exists whereas before this development leap they just thought, “it’s gone forever”! A bit like out of sight, out of mind!

When does it occur?

There are different stages of the developmental milestone starting from birth to 24 months. Usually around the 8 month mark babies understand that something still exists even if they are unable to see it…

You may notice before this development leap that when you hide a toy under your hand they look for it for a moment and then they are on to the next toy they can see. After they have developed this “object permanence” they will continue to look for the hidden toy, they know it still exists!

It helps develop their memory, attention span, pretend play and language. What age was your child when you noticed you could hide a toy under the blanket and they seem adamant they will find it?

How Can You Move Through This Transition With Ease?

To help your baby through these developmental milestones and try to ease those moments when you do leave the room or goodness me, yes, go out for some well-earned Mum/Dad time try these games below…


  • Increase more day time cuddles, attention and playing more

  • Try to have a peaceful, calm, loving bedtime routine

  • Be confident around your baby when you leave the room, and always say “good bye, see you soon, mummy loves you”

  • For the older toddler, have you ever drawn a little heart on the palm of your hand and “printed” it onto your toddlers..? This is a great bedtime tactic/nursery drop off tactic. Tell them that your hearts are always attached and you are always with them!

  • Play “peek-a-boo” games often during the day. Start with hiding behind your hands, then perhaps the sofa, then behind the door. Don’t stay away for too long, and always make it fun!

  • Hide them under a light blanket and pull it off, watch them giggle away. See if they can pull the blanket of their own face (this may happen closer to 10 months of age but has been seen before!)

  • If starting a new day care setting, spend time there with your baby, even just walking up and down the street and watching the new faces come and go out the building

  • Bring a comforter with them to hold or pop in their pocket

  • Perhaps pop a little photo of you and baby in their pocket for the settling in period at day care (always inform the staff of your tactics and what you are doing. They will encourage it)

  • Be excited and encouraged when you are helping your child settle in a new setting

  • Always leave your child happy with confidence and courage!


  • Hide a toy under the blanket for your baby to seek and find, then do it behind the sofa… If they are on the move see if you can encourage them to go find it, see if they can predict if it is behind the sofa every time! Then guide them to the place the toy is actually hidden. Watch their face light up!

  • Show a toy to your baby then hide it in a box in front of them. Encourage your baby to look for it, help them open the box and grab the toy

If you find these milestones are having an impact on your child’s sleep whether they are 8 months or 3 years old and you would like some help and advice through this don’t hesitate to get in touch. I am here to help you make this shift as easy as possible for you and your family. You can book a FREE discovery call HERE today! Happy sleeping, Rachael Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant x


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