Sudden Separation Anxiety at Bedtime

Updated on April 30, 2010
J.L. asks from Austin, TX
6 answers

Our 2-year old suddenly developed separation anxiety at bedtime. We used to be able to just put him to bed, say our good nights and leave the room, but now he doesn't want us to leave and when we do, he starts screaming and crying. After two weeks of trying to calm him to sleep and losing precious "me time," I've decided to let him "cry it out." It was awful to listen to him cry and scream "Mommy," but he eventually feel asleep. Obviously, I'd like to avoid doing the same thing again tonight and I am wondering if Ihere is anything I can do to avoid having him cry it out? Is this separation anxiety normal at this age?

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So What Happened?

It seems his anxiety has gotten a bit better lately. I now leave the door to his room open and tell him that I am right outside the door if he needs anything. We are, however, attempting to train him to stay in his bed when he wakes up during the night. We used to bring him to our bed whenever this happened. I can't wait until he's a teenager and we won't be able to get him to leave his bed! :-) Thanks everyone for your great advice on this one.

More Answers



answers from Austin on

I highly recommend Dr. Ferber's book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. It is a compassionate, progressive cry it out plan. Don't worry about reading the whole book, just skip to the part you need. In a nutshell, you let your son cry for 5 minutes, go back in and comfort him, but do not pick him up or let him get up. Once he is calm, leave again and let him cry for 10 minutes this time. Comfort again, then leave and let him cry for 15 minutes. Repeat ad infinitum with the crying capped at 15 minutes until he falls asleep. You are teaching him that you will always be there for him, but that he has to stay in his bed. It may take a few nights, but it works and is much more compassionate than just letting him cry himself to sleep. It was the only thing that worked with my daughter. Good luck!



answers from Houston on

I don't know if this is your first child or not, but at age 2 they usually can get the "nite terrors". Both my girls got them around this age and it took quite a few months to go away. You may want to be careful doing the cry it out thing, because if it is night terrors then your baby is truly scared and not just being a "baby" and you don't want him to just be scared....
Good luck.


answers from Austin on

Here's some info from Dr. Kyle Pruett and a link for more details regarding routines for children. Good luck!

Routines and rituals are especially important (and sometimes hardest) to maintain when a child is ill, or the family is going through a stressful time. Routines around food, clothing, bathing, going to school and sleep can be soothing precisely because they don’t vary in the face of change.  The ultimate routine or ritual is mealtime. Children learn about what matters in life in a regular, predictable, culture-rich and (one hopes) nutritious environment. Plan it and protect it.



answers from Chicago on

Wow, as much as it stinks that you're going through this, reading you post made me feel better ;-) My 2 year-old (27 mo.) just started doing the SAME thing 2 weeks ago. He's been so good at bedtime up until this point that people have even complimented him/us on it. Now it's crying and "Mommy, where are you?", "Mommy, ow-ie!", "Mommy, diaper change..." etc. for up to an hour. We've ignored, given in, attended to him, and it all seems to come to the same result of him falling asleep finally when he's worn himself out. The most success I've had is when I rub his back for a minute then tell him he needs to go to sleep, but I'll come in to check on him and rub his back some more once he's asleep (but not while he's still awake). He then stays in bed (he's in a twin) and falls asleep. He also seems to do better when it's my husband who puts him down instead of me (I think so he doesn't specifically see me, Mommy, leaving last).

Good luck!! We'll get through this, right?!



answers from Denver on

Awww...this is the hardest stuff. Two of my 3 children did the same thing. They are very "brightly spirited" children...testing every boundary. It's great he's staying in bed. It's okay for him to cry it out...he's testing you...he doesn't realize he is, but he is. If you give in, he will learn that he has a special power. Just have a regular, nice bedtime routine for him. All 3 of ours always listened to music...that has always been a help for their comfort. My middle child never did that, but she would NOT stay in I'd sit in her doorway and read a book to 'gaurd' her. It worked...I only had to do that a few days...less than a week. The other two, truthfully, I don't remember how long it took them, but I know it wasn't long, that I lived through it and we are all okay. Good luck to sucks to listen to your baby cry!


answers from St. Louis on

I think it's very normal. I recommend doing what we did for our daughter at almost 2.5 years old. Before then, I would sit in her room with her until she fell asleep.

I told her that I would sing to her, sit in her room for X amount of time (you can do 5, 10, 15 minutes) then I would leave the room but would be close by. The first night, she came out of her room a few times and I took her right back, telling her goodnight. I told her she HAD to stay in her room or else I would shut the door. So she stayed in her room by about the 5th time. She eventually fell asleep in her doorway but at least she stayed in her room! The second night, she cried for maybe a minute. The third night she whimpered. Now, I sit in her room for 5-10 minutes and then tell her I'm leaving but will leave the door open and she'll go to sleep on her own. There have been a few nights where she can't fall asleep so I'll go back in and she's still awake or laying in her doorway (has happened 2x total) but for the most part, she does it herself.

This comes from a momma who used to first nurse her to sleep, then rock her to sleep, then sit in her room until she was fast asleep, and I always made sure it was dark in her room and sometimes completely dark in the house so she wouldn't sense the 'light' and stay awake. We always used to shut her door and she has a fan running. I think all of that was causing her to feel isolated. Now we leave her door open and a light in the living room on, as well as turn on her turtle that displays stars on the ceiling. I do not worry about being quiet when she's trying to go to sleep. I think she falls asleep easier because she can hear us moving around and knows she is not alone.

I don't know if what I did was called CIO - but I do not think of it that way. I never let her cry more than a few minutes before going in - either to comfort for a minute or to tell her it was time for sleep.

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