Help Your 2 Year Old Overcome Separation Anxiety at Bedtime

Bedtime Separation Anxiety can be so challenging, both for your 2 year old and for you. It can suddenly appear, out of nowhere, and make bedtimes feel never-ending. I’ve been there! But, there is hope!

I’m going to share with you the things I did that helped my daughter overcome her bedtime separation anxiety and start falling asleep happily within 5 minutes of lights-out!

Sleep is one of those things that we often take for granted when we are all getting it. However, it is only when someone is not getting enough sleep that we begin to realise just how important it really is.

Below are the things that I have personally done to help my own daughter when she was 2 and suffering from separation anxiety at bedtime. They really helped her to move past it and she now drops off to sleep quickly and happily every night.

Pin text reads, easy 15 minute toddler bedtime routine helps with separation anxiety. Image of a sleeping toddler.

Why Does Separation Anxiety Happen at Bedtime?

Separation anxiety is common between the ages of 6 months and 3 years (Source: NHS).

Your little one is beginning to realize how much they need you to meet their needs and they are developing their attachment to you.

This separation anxiety can often become worse at bedtime, as that’s often the only time when they feel completely alone, out of sight and sound of you.

Knowing that this is a normal phase of childhood development is not only reassuring to us as parents, but it also reminds us that it will not last forever.

How Can You Help Your Child?

The best way you can help your child through this is by building routines that reassure them that you are still close by.

Creating an environment that feels safe, predictable and reassuring is very important. It’s about demonstrating to your child that even though you aren’t physically there in the room with them, you are still close by and will always come if they need you.

Another thing to bare in mind is that the quicker they fall asleep the calmer they will feel and the less time they will spend thinking about being away from you.

My daughter and I have this funny little bedtime routine where she always asks me, ‘How long is it until morning?’ and I reply with, ‘It’s a loooooong time if you stay awake and just a little bit if you go to sleep’. It’s really true. It doesn’t feel like any time at all until morning when you fall asleep fast!

1. Create a Predictable Bedtime Routine

This helps calm their body and reduce anxiety in the build-up to bedtime. They know what to expect and can have some sense of control over knowing what happens next.

Think about the order you do everything and try to keep it the same each night. A bedtime story, a cuddle, and sip of water are often good things to include.

This is what our bedtime routine looks like:

  • Brush Teeth
  • Toilet
  • PJ’s
  • Bedtime Stories in bed
  • Bedtime Prayers
  • Lullaby
  • Drink of Water
  • Bedtime Cuddles
  • Lights out

This routine helps my daughter relax and get cosy in her bed, reducing her anxiety and helping her fall asleep faster.

2. Help Your Child Know You Are Close

Your little one wants to know you are always close. There are a few simple ways you can reassure them of your presence.

  • Always respond and check on them when they shout for you. This may seem tedious to begin with. I get it! It may even involve you sitting outside their bedroom door initially so you can constantly reassure them. However, it is worth it in the long-term, as it builds their trust in you and you can then gradually faze it out.
  • Involve their Senses. Our senses are quite powerful and often having a personal object that smells like you to cuddle at bedtime will help. Consider spraying your perfume onto their favorite toy or the edge of their duvet. This should subconsciously relax them as they drift off to sleep. Alternatively, a favorite cosy jumper of yours put onto their teddy for them to snuggle might be reassuring.
  • Try recording your voice reading their favorite stories and playing it as they drift off to sleep. It’s like listening to an audiobook but with your voice. My daughter loves listening to hers at bedtime.

3. Getting to Sleep Quicker

Getting to sleep quicker reduces the amount of time your little one is feeling the separation anxiety.

You know what it’s like yourself if you’re worrying about something at bedtime. The worry only gets worse the longer you lie there awake. Then the next night you may put off bedtime if you think you’re going to lie awake worrying for ages before you fall asleep.

So, the faster your little one can drop off to sleep, the more pleasant the bedtime experience is for them, and the less anxious they will be about bedtime the next night.

These are some of the things that help our daughter fall asleep in 5 minutes most nights!

  • Sticking to her Predictable Bedtime Routine
  • Snuggling her special Unicorn Toy
  • Listening to a recording of me reading her favorite stories
  • Sticking a ‘bedtime sticker’ onto her pillow (Total Placebo Affect but whatever works, right?!)

Overcoming 2 Year Old Separation Anxiety at Bedtime

It may take some time getting their bedtime routine fine tuned and just right for them. You might have a few weeks (or months) of sitting outside their bedroom door reassuring them that you are still here. BUT, you will get there!

With patience and consistency your 2 year old will overcome this period of bedtime separation anxiety. As with most things when they are little, this is a phase they will usually grow out of in time.

Further Sleep Help

If you have tried all of the above for a few months and are seeing no improvement for your little ones bedtime anxiety, it may signal that other things are going on. There may be something else causing your child anxiety. Whilst our daughter overcame her bedtime anxiety within a few months and now falls asleep fast, our son still struggles with falling asleep.

If you have an older child who is still struggling with bedtime separation anxiety, take a look at some of our sleep strategies for that here.

Pin text reads, the simple toddler bedtime routine for independent sleep my toddler was asleep in 5 minutes! Image of 2 year old sleeping toddler cuddling teddy.