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Separation Anxiety And Sleep | Sweet Dreams | giggle Blogs

separation anxiety and sleep

October 7, 2010

separation anxiety and sleep

My eldest daughter started nursery school a couple weeks ago.  She simultaneously began to awaken at night. I also started receiving many calls from weary parents concerned about this new change in their preschooler’s sleep as well.

And when you think about it, it all makes sense.

Nighttime is the longest separation our children have from us.  And, it’s quite significant — 11 to 12 hours in many cases.  So, when children are doing the difficult work of separating during the day (even if they gleefully run from you shouting ‘see you later!’), they can have a much harder time doing so at night. It’s a lot like working a new muscle that is sore.  There needs to be some healing before further progress can be made.

So, if you find yourself in the same boat as me these days, rest assured that this is a very normal part of development.  The best thing you can do is continue to reassure your child and validate his/her feelings.  This is definitely not a time to push. Here are a few quick tips that can help:

1. Give your child a lovey to sleep with. This could be a t-shirt you wore to bed last night or a favorite teddy bear or blankie.  Something that smells like you will bring more comfort and ease the pain of the separation at bedtime.

2. Invite your child to bring a lovey to school. Having a connection such as this to their home life can help children with the transition.  (Check with your teachers first to ensure this is ok with them.)

3. Make a book about your child’s school day. Offer concrete examples of things children do at school (i.e. circle time, snack time, story time, etc).  Let your child fill in some of the blanks.  Having something like this will allow your child to process their feelings and gain a sense of mastery over this new adventure, which may ease their anxiety.

4. Give your child permission to have and talk about all of their feelings. Sometimes it can be so hard for us to tolerate feelings like sadness or loneliness so we try to tell children to feel another way (i.e. “How can you not like school?!  School is a fun place.  You have lots of friends there.”).  If this doesn’t match your child’s experience, then they learn not to trust their own feelings or your understanding of them.

Lastly, as my mother always reminds me, this too shall pass.  When things get hard, stick right there with your child and don’t worry that you’re creating any bad patterns.  Sometimes our kids just need more of us, and that’s perfectly ok!