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Supporting Baby Through Separation Anxiety

Recently my two year old has been making requests for mom and dad to stay with him at bedtime. I am not surprised! We’ve been through the “peak in separation anxiety” thing a few times already.. and at age 2, this tends to come back one more time. Aren’t sleep regressions fun?! ha.

The first time we see this in babies is typically at 9 months, and I think it is the most surprising because it is new, and different. By the time we experience a second peak in separation anxiety around 18 months, we are usually able to communicate more with baby, and work through it together. And at age 2, my son has many words he can use to tell me more about what he needs to feel safe and secure for sleep. Words are the best!

Remember the concept of object permanence? This is learning that objects exist even when we can’t see them? While this new intellectual skill is a vital part of your child’s development, it is also one of the root causes of separation anxiety.

But if my child knows I exist even when they can’t see me, what’s the big deal?

Your child now has a mental picture of you forever in their mind and, unfortunately, babies learn about people leaving before they learn about people returning, and it is between the ages of 9 and 18 months that separation anxiety will typically peak.

Dealing with separation anxiety can be a challenge for both parents and children, but there are a few things you can do to help you through:

  • Create a secure relationship with your child. Focus on active play, building trust, and responding to their cries.

  • Allow your child time to play independently (although be within sight to ensure safety, and practice distancing yourself for short periods of time).

  • Communicate with your child: Tell them you are leaving but assure them that you will be back. Come back when you say you will. This also builds trust.

  • Read books about characters and animals who leave the home, and return again.

  • Introduce new people and places gradually; it takes time to build relationships.

  • Introduce a transitional object such as a blanket or special toy that can be comforting when you are away from one another.

  • Keep goodbyes brief.

For bedtime troubles, comfort and reassure your child that you are there for them. When they are ready for sleep, some gentle back rubs or hand holding can help to soothe your child and bring back those easy bedtimes.

I know we are often worried about creating a, “bad habit”, in place of a habit that we have worked hard to create such as; going to sleep independently. But remember, one of the first stages of developing secure attachments is proximity. Children will return to this phase, and not graduate to the next stage of attachment until their needs have been met in the stage that they are in, and they feel safe and secure. It is normal for our children to need more support through these times in development.

As our children develop, they will eventually learn that separations from their parents (whether they be daycare or bedtime) are not permanent. This too is another stage that can be incredibly difficult and pull on your parental heart strings, but remember that it is a normal stage of development in building healthy, secure children, and one that does show your child’s development is right on track.

I encourage you to chat with me more if there is anything I can do to help you through bedtime challenges you are experiencing in your home. I would be more than happy to help.

XO

Lara

And as always, thank you to @stacielynnphotography for the beautiful image you see here.

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Newborn Sleep: Expectations vs Reality

When I began my parenting journey 4 years ago, I really could not have prepared myself for all of the changes I was set to experience.

I thought I was ready.. I really thought I was. I had always LOVED working with children, and I really thought I was ready for my own. Although my experience at the time with babies was slim to none, I still felt confident that I would be able to crush this mom thing just as I had crushed many of my other goals in my (then) 28 years of life.

When July 2013 came along and I felt like I wasn’t exactly “crushing it”.. I started to spiral down a little hole. Lucky for me I found lots of people who pulled me out.. but the negative self talk is something I still remember to this day.

I really thought I would have it all together, and everywhere I looked it appeared that everyone else certainly did. Why was I such a fail?! Hint – I wasn’t a fail. I was just a new mom, and my expectations were different than the reality of life at home with a new infant. Had I actually known what to expect, I probably could have let a lot of those ridiculous expectations go, and just enjoyed my baby more.

I had certain expectations when it came to preparing for my new baby. I would need a nursery, yes. Of course. Because she was DEFINITELY going to be sleeping there from (almost) day 1. I would need a beautiful crib, with a safe non-toxic mattress, and some sleepers of course. Little shoes. Cuz.. baby shoes are adorable.

Swaddle. What.. what is a swaddle? Maybe I will get one of those swaddle-type blanket things but.. I probably won’t be needing that… that just seems like another “bad habit” I am going to have to undo at some point. And a soother – pacifier – whatever you call it.. I DEFINITELY won’t be needing that! Have you seen a toddler with a soother?! How silly does that look?

I prepared myself for the birth of course. People told me it would be painful. I read some books on French parenting, because supposedly they are doing it better than us over there.. and I read, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” because well.. everyone else was reading it. But I am pretty sure I skipped the chapters on baby sleep, not because they weren’t important, but I just figured.. my baby will sleep. I see babies sleeping everywhere all over town. Obviously babies just sleep when they are tired and we will go about our day in the way we always have.

I certainly won’t be one of those parents who change their whole lifestyle for their offspring! Those people are LAME.

Right?!

Wrong. Haha.

One of the things that I think nearly killed me as a new mom was how different my expectation of parenting was from my reality. I literally expected that babies just sleep when they are tired. And while this is true for some… I had a crash course in infant sleep when I found myself with THE world’s crankiest (I still believe), most over-tired, highly sensitive, colicky, newborn, on my hands.

I was introduced to Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s pretty darn quick. Swaddling, shushing, side-lying nursing, and holding, the shuggling, and sucking were all so helpful in calming the little fusspot that was my new baby.

I learned about swaddle blankets, pacifiers, baby wearing, and awake windows. I learned about white noise, dark rooms, miracle sleep suits, and safe co-sleeping. I learned about late nights, early mornings, room sharing, husband sleeping on the couch, mom sleeping wherever she can get a few minutes in, and baby wearing. I learned to trust my gut. 

And then because I had a new baby who DID not sleep well, you can probably guess what I was bombarded with next, right?

Yup. Sleep training.

Controlled crying. Cry-it-out. Extinction. Gradual Retreat. Camping out. Sleep training in all its glory was every place I looked. I started to take books out of the library that promised 12 hour nights by 12 weeks, and felt like a total loser when I could not stick to the strict schedules they recommended. 

And my goodness I was desperate for sleep, but I just couldn’t seem to get my daughter the sleep she needed. How come so and so can get her baby to sleep at a restaurant, and I can’t even get this baby to sleep in my arms?! Hint – babies have different sleep personalities. What?! They do?

And I felt crushed.

I think most people reading this today know how all of this turned out for me. It led me into a place I never imagined I would be – coaching families every day through their children’s sleepless nights in a way that feels good. No controlled crying. No cry-it-out. No extinction. Love, understanding, and nurturing around infant sleep. Trying to line the stars up so our babies sleep well, but never forcing a round peg into a square hole.  And this led to the birth of my workshop as well..

I want new moms to know what they are up against. I want you to go in feeling like you have given all of this some thought before people start shoving the – YOU NEED SLEEP pamphlets into your diaper bag. Let’s connect around the topic of infant sleep and get you thinking about it with a level head, an open heart, and a clear mind.

Don’t get caught up in the expectation versus reality downward spiral. Let’s level the two out, and have you feeling empowered, ready, and supported in your baby’s sleep journey.

Join my workshop and learn about all of this and SO much more in the comfort of your own home. It is going to be such a rewarding experience – I know that.

You can get your seat to the workshop, and read more about it, here.

I look forward to being your host.

XO

Lara

Thank you Stacie-Lynn for the beautiful baby mama photos as always.