Anyone who has ever tried to put a toddler to bed knows very well the struggle of nighttime separation anxiety! Going to bed can be a scary proposition for your kids. They are in a dark room all by themselves, and even though you’re nearby, their brains aren’t capable yet of rationally thinking through your promise to keep them safe. Fear overtakes them, and next thing you know, it’s an hour or two after bedtime, and they fall asleep in your arms out of sheer exhaustion.
If you’re like most parents, after a few nights of this bedtime battle, something has to give. These are the tips we tried in our house and found to work – hopefully they work for you, too!
5 Ways to Put an End to Nighttime Separation Anxiety
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- Create a routine, complete with a task strip. Our bedtime routine has been the same for years – bath, pajamas, brush teeth, read stories, go potty, cuddle, and climb in bed. When we first were going through nighttime separation anxiety, we created a task strip with pictures of each step of the routine so our children could follow along with each step. You can even go so far as to laminate it and allow them to cross off each step with a dry erase marker. By knowing what to expect, it gives your children control and helps ward off fear.
- Leave a light on in the room. I’ll admit it – I was afraid of the dark for years. I think I was 12 before I was able to sleep without a light on in my bedroom. If your child is prone to nightmares or has a fear of monsters/bugs/etc., the dark will only make it worse. They have some ingenious nightlights these days that help allay the fear of the dark.
- Set up a guard. We went through a period where my son was afraid of bugs (I think he had a string of nightmares, and every night thereafter he talked about bugs coming to get him). My husband had the brilliant idea to “set up a guard” (after The Lion Guard, one of our son’s favorite shows) each night to protect him. We set up all of his action figures, trucks, LEGO men, etc. facing the bed to keep watch over him while he slept. Writing this now, I can see where your child might find this creepy, but it worked for ours!
- Offer a friend. A stuffed animal or lovie of some sort can make a big difference. We are huge fans of My Pal Scout/My Pal Violet – they are customizable with your child’s name and some of their favorite items, and they play bedtime music. The longest setting is 10 minutes, and my kids are usually asleep by the time Scout or Violet shuts off.
- Make a safe zone. Sometimes, despite all your attempts, your child still needs you. Create a safe, comfortable spot on the floor near your bed and let your child know it’s okay if she needs to come out and sleep near you. That way, you are discouraging co-sleeping but still providing an opportunity for your child to do what feels right for her if she’s frightened.
Fortunately, your child will grow out of nighttime separation anxiety. Unfortunately, it may take a little while for his brain to be ready. Give these tips a try for at least a couple of weeks and see if it makes a difference for you. Soon, you’ll all be sleeping better and waking up rested and ready for the day. In the meantime, hang in there!