Separation Anxiety at Home

A parent disappearing for even a little bit can be rough on sleep

I didn’t realize this at first, but Dek gets separation anxiety when we travel. Sometimes it’s during a trip and sometimes it’s after we get home. It is an interesting phenomenon to be sure.

When Dek and I travel without Mike it makes sense. His dad has disappeared. Even if Dek is perfectly happy during the day, nights can be rough. What was confusing was when we came home from our last trip to the Big Island. Dek was 2 years old. He had his dad’s undivided attention for two whole weeks. Then we got home. Mike went back to work. Even worse, he went into a crunch period at his job to get a project done on schedule that was due the week after our return. Suddenly Dek had no daddy.

Dek would wake up each morning after Mike had already left for work and ask “where’s daddy?” I’d simply tell him daddy went to work. He seemed OK with this and we went about our normal routine. Naps were fine. He was eating great. And then bedtime would roll around.

We went through our normal bedtime routine (bath, books, bed.) I gave him hugs and kisses, popped him in his crib and left the room. Five minutes later he was screaming for me. I would sooth him down, explain to him I was just in the next room and even talk to him through the door so he knew I was still there. He would quiet down. Ten minutes later we would start all over again. Slowly it dawned on me, he wanted to make sure I was still there. One parent was gone maybe the other one was too.

How do you convince a 2 year old that you won’t leave him and that his dad (or mom) will be back?

  • Stay calm
  • Keep to your child’s normal bed time routine as much as possible
  • If your child uses a nightlight and/or sound machine, make sure you have both on hand, no matter where you are in the world
  • Let your child know where you will be
  • Tell your child that you will be back in 5 minutes to check on them. Don’t’ forget to check on them (every sleep book will tell you this. If you don’t, then your kid probably will, Dek certainly does.)
  • Make a little noise. Let them know you are still around. Pop the TV on or do the dishes. Just something to let your anxious child know you haven’t disappeared.
  • Be patient. This may take a few days or even a week as your child slowly adjusts to their new life (if you are on the road) or back into their usual routine (if you have returned home.)

I’m happy to report that sleep did go back to normal after about a week. We were dealing with some jet lag on top of the daddy disappearance, but by the next weekend he saw that dad was still in our lives. A little extra daddy time didn’t hurt either. For either of us.

written by Keryn Means

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