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Toddler Separation Anxiety & Sleep

By Kathryn Hatter ; Updated June 13, 2017

With your little one’s expanding language skills and strong attachment to you, she’s prime for some separation anxiety during the toddler stage. The combination of separation anxiety and toddler sleep issues can create a double whammy that’s enough to induce a parental zombie state.

Separation Anxiety

Your toddler might not have the language skills necessary to express his fears verbally, but he knows when he feels panicked about losing you. These fears might hit him when you walk into the next room, when you leave him for a few hours of shopping or when you tuck him into bed at night. Because your toddler feels such a strong bond to you, it might feel overwhelming to him when you leave because he doesn’t know when you will return, according to Aha! Parenting.

Common Sleep Regression

Somewhere near the 18-month mark, many toddlers experience significant sleep regression that leads to night waking, advises Licensed Family Therapist Kim West, with The Sleep Lady website. This sleep regression may coincide with cognitive advances, new gross motor skills, teething, family tensions and separation anxiety. As your little one learns enough to know that she can’t always be with you, this might cause her enough anxiety to disrupt her sleep patterns. Sleep regression should not last more than 2 to 6 weeks.

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Look for Physical Reasons

When a little one begins to have difficulties at night, it’s wise to eliminate physical causes for the sleep disturbance before moving on to any other solutions. Check for swollen gums and erupting teeth. If you find evidence of teething, a home remedy, such as a cold wash cloth pressed against inflamed gums, can provide relief, or you can ask your child's doctor about over-the-counter medications that might help. Check your toddler for signs of illness by taking his temperature and looking for cold or flu symptoms. If you think your little one might be sick, seek medical advice from your physician.

Destress your Toddler’s Environment

The more relaxed and peaceful your toddler feels throughout the day and overnight, the less anxious she will likely feel, counsels Pediatrician and Author William Sears, writing for Parenting. Maintain a regimented daytime nap routine to prevent your little one from becoming overtired. Institute a consistent bedtime routine that includes the same activities each night to provide your child with a routine she will know. With loving consistency, your toddler will soon move past separation anxiety issues at night.

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