Babies are rocked to sleep in their mother’s womb, listening to her heartbeat and breathing. It is the ultimate place of comfort. It’s no surprise then, after birth, when they always want to be near you. The hardest thing for a child to face is separation from their caregiver.
If your child is sleeping in their own space, nighttime can represent the greatest separation from you that they face in their day to day life. An amazing way to help with bedtime battles or separation anxiety is to increase CONNECTION. “If separation is the problem, then attachment and connection is the cure.” Dr. Deborah MacNamara’s work on this topic is fantastic. In her infographic “When Saying Goodnight is Hard”, she gives 20 strategies for “bridging” with your child - giving them something to hold onto that represents your connection, even when you’re apart.
For younger babies, your physical presence is so important and comforting. Sleeping with their crib sheet or pyjamas will put your scent onto these items so that you can then have your child sleep with the items the next night and still smell that you are nearby. For some newborns, using white noise that sounds like a heartbeat can be very reassuring when it’s played in their bedroom while they sleep.
For children who can speak, discussing and demonstrating your emotional connection to them becomes very important at bedtime. Instead of putting emphasis on the separation, you can put emphasis on how you are with them during the night and what they have to look forward to together in the morning. Here are a few ideas you might like to try:
Fill their pillow with kisses
Kiss them with lipstick on their hand or forehead while sleeping so they know you checked on them
Visit them every few minutes to give them a paper heart and tell them you will continue to visit them throughout the night (then leave a stack of hearts for them to find in the morning)!
Tell them to listen for your footsteps or singing as they sleep because you are nearby in case they need you
Make up a story that you promise to finish together in the morning
Tell them about a delicious breakfast or a fun activity you’ll do together in the morning
There are many more great suggestions in Dr. MacNamara’s infographic and you can also come up with your own! When we try to force our children to separate from us, it often results in tears and refusal to separate the next time. If we can instead bridge these separations and focus on our connection, we will be much more successful in helping them build confidence and independence. They won’t likely be excited about separating from us with the first use of one of these strategies, but if you consistently make your emotional connection part of the dialogue around bedtime, and with a little bit of patience, you’ll help your child develop a positive association with sleep. Even sleeping alone.
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