In this episode, I sit down with Dr. Kim Van Dusen, Licensed Family Therapist and Registered Play Therapist to talk all about separation anxiety.
More specifically, we talk about:
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EVA: (00:04)Hey there, you’re listening to the My Sleeping Baby podcast, which is all about baby and child sleep. I’m so excited to teach you how you can get your little ones sleeping so that you can sleep too and enjoy parenthood to its fullest. I’m Eva Klein, your resident’s sleep expert, mom of three, founder of the Sleep Bible online coaching program, and lover of all things sleep and motherhood. If you’re looking for tangible solutions for your little one sleep woes or you simply want to learn more, this podcast is for you. For more information, check out mysleepingbaby.com and you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook @mysleepingbaby.
All right, Kim, thank you so much for being here today. Why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and, uh, what you do.
Dr. Kim: (00:53)
All right. Thank you. I am so happy to be here today. So hi everyone. I am Dr. Kim and I have a doctorate in psychology. I am a licensed American family therapist. I am a registered play therapist and university professor and podcaster and writer. So, um, I, my specialty is working with little ones, um, mostly zero to five and I have an eight year old and the five year old. So I’m a mom of two as well.
Amazing. And so why don’t you just quickly tell everyone, you know, sort of how you work with parents of little ones, how you support them in terms of like your, you know, online programs, your one on one work, you know, how does, how, what are the different ways that you work with families right now?
Dr. Kim: (01:37)
Sure. So, um, I do have parenting consultations and coaching sessions that I do on my website. Um, people could just reach out to me via email, personally, my emails on Instagram and it’s on my website and wherever you wanna find me. Uh, and so with those consultations, it’s not therapeutically based obviously based on confidentiality and you know, it’s not diagnosable, things like that. So it’s mostly just kind of guiding the parent coaching, the parent, how to handle some of their child’s behaviors. Some might be more developmentally, um, you know, if they’re going through some meltdowns and some tantrums, but I, I give parents tools on how to help them make that just a little bit easier. Uh, and then I also give them tools on how to actually, uh, communicate with their child in hopes that the child’s behaviors will minimize as well. So I do do the coaching consultations, uh, and again, they can just reach out to me personally for that it’s kind of a case by case basis.
And then I have my own private practice. And so I get referrals, you know, to work with children that zero to five category. And, uh, I’ve, I’ve done some things with some sleep training consultations in the past for the real little ones. And then I’ve also, you know, worked with toddlers, preschoolers and young elementary, um, aged children on all sorts of things, whether they had an autism diagnosis, ADHD diagnosis, O D D I could, I can name them all. Um, and then also just on some general behavior, mm-hmm, <affirmative> when it comes to adjusting to a new school or adjusting to a new sibling, uh, and they’re acting out because of that. Um, so pretty much anything in that scope is something that I, that I focus on in, in my work
Amazing because some of that I wanna dive right into, you know, we were, we were chatting before about how, you know, everyone knows that when you’re dealing with toddlers and preschoolers and sleep, it’s a different world than when you’re dealing with the infants, right. There’s so much more, um, you know, developmentally that they’re going through. That means that they’re so much, you know, now they’re more verbal. Um, they’re more mobile. They have like really strong opinions on certain things and, you know, they can often use their words to communicate that. And I think for so many parents, a lot of these milestones can feel so overwhelming. Um, just not knowing you know, what to do and how to handle sleep. So let’s, let’s talk about some of these, you know, hot button topics, cuz I think that it would be so beneficial for people to understand sort of the best way to approach sleep when your little one is going through something like this.
So let’s first talk about separation anxiety because, um, that’s a big one, right? And that is a developmental phase that, you know, kids of various different ages go through that does have the ability to impact sleep to a degree. Um, but why don’t you first explain sort of what separation anxiety is? You know, what it isn’t what it, you know, what it means. And, and then from there, I guess the second part of the question is if there is a toddler or a preschooler going through separation anxiety who might be going to bed by themselves, no problem, but is then suddenly going no, no, no. Mommy don’t leave. Um, how would you generally advise, um, parents to handle that sort of that phase?
Dr. Kim: (05:01)
Sure. And separation anxiety is one of my favorite topics. I think I have like multiple blogs on it. So if I wants to check out my website, I have more info there. You know, and to me, separation anxiety in children is like you said, a developmental milestone. They go through absolutely a hundred percent correct separation anxiety, in my opinion. And in my professional opinion is also part of the parents’ anxiety. So if the parent is anxious about leaving their child, taking to school, you know, uh, leaving ’em in a different environment, leaving them with a babysitter or something like that, um, putting them to bed at night, I think a lot of times parents overcompensate and they become anxious and the child in turn will then glean off of that anxiety and become anxious themselves. So yes, there is some biological components at the, you said various ages from infancy, you know, through, through even late elementary school that can happen, um, to have that.
But again, if, if the parent is anxious, then it’s gonna make the child even more anxious. So I think first and foremost, parents need to know to be mindful and be able to manage their own anxiety when it comes to separating from their child. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, I know I was like this, even with my first born, you know, I, I think a lot of parents go through this, especially with their first born and then, you know, sometimes thereafter and you know, you always see the memes out there where, you know, they say, this is how my first born was treated and now the second born third and it’s like less and less parenting. Yeah. Um, so I know that’s part of the, a process is parenting is too. But I think what parents need to, to realize is that sometimes we, again, overcompensate, we do almost too much for our kids because in those, in those early years, children are very egocentric mm-hmm <affirmative>.
And they’re also in a stage where they’re trying to find their own autonomy. They’re trying to find their own independence. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so if a parent hinders that, if, if there’s a time where a parent is saying, oh no, no, I’ll, I’ll do that for you. Or I’ll sleep with you for three hours until you fall asleep in your bed. Or you can come into my bed in the middle of the night, every night, or there’s, there’s a lack of boundaries. Maybe then, then the child, you know, won’t know what to do with that. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so there needs to be lot structure, a lot of boundaries around that. And some more matter of fact, parenting, you know, some firm parenting to say, this is how it’s going to be. Let’s find a way to support each other and work together to, to make it happen. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so if it means a different type of sleep routine or, or boundaries in the middle of the night, they just have to be very, very consistent. Cuz if there’s a loophole that child’s gonna find it and right. And maybe increase some of that anxiety.
Right, right, right, right. I heard, um, I took a parenting class a little while ago with, um, uh, another psychologist who was flown in from Israel. And one of the things that she taught us was that when kids don’t have, I mean, it was geared towards the three year to three to 11 year age range. So like not the toddlers, but not the teenagers cuz I guess, right. Those are both, you know, completely different universes. But for this age range, you know, she was saying that when children don’t have healthy boundaries, that it can make them feel anxious because healthy boundaries make them feel protected. Like someone is looking out for them, like they’re not navigating the big, bad world on their own. Would you agree with that premise?
Dr. Kim: (08:17)
I do. And I think that sometimes parents that have unfulfilled needs from their childhood.
Dr. Kim: (08:25)
Again, I wanna say use their children for lack of a better word, use their children to fulfill that void, to fill that need that they were never given as a child themselves. Right. And so therefore like you said, those healthy boundaries are really blurred. There’s there’s, there’s no concrete boundaries. And so if they feel like, well, I want to, um, you know, have my child with me at 24, 7 24 7, where we’re cons our bodies are constantly touching and I don’t give them much autonomy. I don’t give them much independence. I’m over parenting and, and doing all of these kind of parent traps, then the child is gonna be anxious. If that parent lets go at all. But the parents are not allowing that, that freedom to take place. They’re not allowing that child to, to learn and self regulate on their own. And that’s something that needs to happen at a very early age. Cuz if a child doesn’t learn how to self regulate at even infancy, you know, when you’re, let’s say initially maybe doing some sleep, sleep training at six months plus four months, plus whatever it is, then the child’s gonna have a harder, much harder time in toddlerhood. And, and when they become preschool and even elementary and the older that child gets, the harder it is to go backwards and try and kind of retrain them if you will. So, right.
Yeah. So a part of me almost, you know, wonders sometimes that when you’re dealing with parents who practice, I guess what’s otherwise known as helicopter parenting. Um, and as I said, I don’t use that term in a judgmental way because we’re all doing the very best that we can to, you know, raise the happiest, healthiest, emotionally stable kids. But at the same time, you know, if, is it possible that that practice stems from those parents receiving the complete opposite, um, approach to parenting, you know, which may have included, you know, spanking timeouts, you know, just being sent to your room, the second that they’re misbehaving, um, and you know, having too many boundaries or boundaries that are unhealthy and not age appropriate and not loving, do you find in your practice is that where a lot of that, um, anxiety around even some healthy boundaries could stem from
Dr. Kim: (10:35)
There. I was just actually talking about this this morning with somebody else about those multi-generational patterns and how, the way we parent comes from the way our parents parented us and so forth. So if a child was raised and a very high anxious environment where that parent, like I said, didn’t give them many options to be autonomous or independent, kind of did everything for them, spoke for them at the doctor’s office, et cetera, et cetera. Um, didn’t allow them to have the emotionality that children need and deserve. Uh, so you know, sent to the room if they were crying or, you know, all the things that you mentioned, and then the parent grows up anxious that they’re not gonna be a good parent because they are not even sure if they were parented the right way. And it just, they just keeps going generation after generation,
Or maybe they’re acutely aware that they were parented the wrong way. Right. Right. They know that they don’t want their kids to have the same upbringing that they had.
Dr. Kim: (11:31)
Yes. Right. But that anxiety lives deep in us. And so if, if a parent is somewhat of a perfectionist, you know, we use the word type a, again, I don’t use that term lightly because I don’t really think that we should be pigeonholed into that type of category. But for those type a perfectionist out there, me included, um, it comes from a sense of high functioning anxiety. And also when it comes to emotionality and not having our needs met in our own childhood and then becoming a parent, having our own children, we become set in what we call a homeostasis. It’s the place where we feel most comfortable and because it’s the most familiar. So even if we don’t like the way we are parented as a child, we tend to repeat those patterns because that’s what we know that’s, what’s familiar to us. And that’s what just kind of comes innately to us when we, we become our, you know, parents and we might say, oh shoot, I shouldn’t have done that. Or, gosh, I don’t wanna be like my mom, I wanna do it differently. But then we end up just kind of half substantially repeating those same behaviors. Um, and anxiety is tough. One to get rid of, especially if it’s, if it’s deep seated inside us, if we had, let’s say a helicopter parent growing up, or someone who, whoever parented for us, it’s gonna be very naturally, uh, and maybe most comfortable for us to do the same thing to our own children.
Right. Right. And so getting back to, you know, separation anxiety per se. So maybe if, if you could just give us, you know, a little bit of insight into what is going on in a two year old’s mind, <laugh> when they actually are going through separation anxiety and then what do they need from us? Um, when they’re going through that stage. Um, and specifically, do they need us there with them 24 7? Um, otherwise they freak out. Um, and if that’s not the approach that they need, then you know, what do you recommend for these sorts of situations instead?
Dr. Kim: (13:22)
Okay, let me great question. Let me start with the last part first. Okay. So we, our kids do not need us around 24 7, and I know that’s hard for a lot of parents. And like you said, we’re all doing the best we can. So I, I, when I work with parents, I, you know, always err on the side of let’s look at your strengths, let’s look at what you’re doing. Right. Because I never like to make, have a parent make them feel like they’re doing something wrong. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, or they’re not good enough cuz they are, you know, and they know their children best. So I always let them kind of be the, the, the, the guide or, you know, the person, the expert of their own life. Right, right.
So that being said though, a lot of times, what I tell parents is when it comes to getting a little of that separation from their children to start small, start with some small tasks. So let’s say they’re used like their child. Doesn’t like not being put down, let’s say the child is used to always being held. You know, whether it’s in a baby carrier is, is an infant and then, or even as a toddler and then they’re, you know, constantly being picked up. And so it’s, it’s a little hard at first because then that’s what the child’s used to. And that’s what the parents used to. So it’s like, they’re both having to kind of relearn a little bit of, of that separation. But I tell ’em to start small because if they start too big then, and if, if it doesn’t work out, then they’re gonna feel like they failed and it’s not gonna work.
It’s too overwhelming. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so start small, like give their child little things they can do to gain some autonomy and independence. So let’s say for instance, the child wants, um, a certain something for breakfast. And if it’s, let’s say cereal milk, let’s just keep it simple. Mm-hmm <affirmative> a, a lot of times you’ll see, especially if they’re a toddler preschooler that the parent will do it for them because they don’t want the milk to spill over the floor. They don’t want the cereal to get all over the place. And there’s almost this anxiety that there’s gonna be a mess that they have to clean up. Parents don’t have time for messes, right? Like they, they have so many things on their plate. The last thing they wanna do is, is pick up this huge mess of cereal milk over the floor. Mm-hmm <affirmative> yet.
It’s also equally important for that child to start learning how to do some of these things on their own and give them that opportunity to do things on their own. But they’re never given the opportunity to try mm-hmm <affirmative> then they’re not gonna learn it. And then they’re gonna always depend on their parent and that I have a whole blog on over parenting and what, you know, it at least to anxiety, depression, uh, lack of confidence, lack of, or more incisiveness things like that. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So I say start small, give your child a milk, you know, some milk, even put it in a smaller container than like, let’s say the large one. So it’s more manageable. Give them a bowl, give or have, maybe get, have ’em get their own bowl, known spoon, you know, a level that they can pick. Uh, so they can pick which one they want out and then let them make their own cereal in the morning.
Right. And then keep going up from there. But they have to start small. Um, anyway, that’s, that’s my advice on how to get there. Right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, when it comes to separation anxiety, I think there’s a couple things that parents can do to, you know, make their child feel more safe. It’s all about safety mm-hmm <affirmative> so you ask what it, what’s a two year old thinking when let’s say they’re going to bed and they feel like there might be monsters in their room. A lot of ’em are very irrational thoughts at the two year old age. Yeah. Because you know, we know monsters aren’t real. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Um, but to them, it is, and it’s a real thing. And so to minimize that is, is not the right way to go Uhhuh. So wanna validate your children, you wanna say, you know what, I know you, you know, there’s, there’s, it looks like there’s so much scary things in your room with all these shadows and this and that, but then you can, you know, go and I know some parents make it playful.
I’m a play therapist. So I go this S route, you know, they have like monster spray or, you know, all the things that you can think of. Yeah. Your child’s mind, but that’s just an example. Um, but let’s say, you know, especially more in the preschool, even early in elementary school age, um, children really have a, a strong fear that their parent will never come back. That they’ll <inaudible> and their parent won’t be there, or they will drop ’em off at school and they won’t be there to pick them up. Right. Like they, it’s a strong and somewhat rational thought. Like my mom won’t come back and that terrifies me. So I can’t sleep alone because I’ll be too scared. She doesn’t come back. Right. And so, you know, leaving something with them, let’s say in their bed, you know, let’s say something that smells like mom, you know, like one of her t-shirts or, you know, something like that, that the baby can sleep with at night. So it smells like mom, it feels like mom, and it’s a tangible something that the child can fold onto to maybe sleep better through the night mm-hmm <affirmative>. Um, if it’s not something like that, um, I know some of my clients I have, um, make kind of like friendship bracelets <laugh> oh, cute. And people wear one. And so the mom wears one and the child wears one and, and that helps ’em feel connected even if they’re not, can that
Be helpful for like a three year old, like, you know, in that age range? Yeah.
Dr. Kim: (17:48)
Oh, sure. Absolutely. Okay. I, I work with a lot of toddlers and preschoolers, and this is something I recommend, especially if they’re going to daycare or if they’re going to a preschool for the first time, and they’re having some, you know, struggles, you know, getting off, staying at school a day without crying, you know, missing mom. And so we, we have these tangible type things, like a bracelet or a picture they take and put in their cubby of mom, um, or something like that that smells like her or something like that. Um, yeah, that really helps them, you know, whether they’re going to school or whether they’re sleeping in their own bed at night, it just helps them feel like mom’s still there even though she’s physically not there.
Right. But what if, so that all sounds great in terms of like preventative stuff, but what if despite the t-shirt that smells like mom and the special bracelet, you know, the child is still suddenly just freaking out and only calms down when you are there. Um, again, you know, attachment parenting, you know, which is I very specific, um, philosophy, you know, around parenting they, and raising young children, they would say, well, that’s because your child needs you right there. And, you know, for you to be building, you know, the most secure attachment possible with your child, you need to be there with that child. And if your child is crying, then obviously it means that they’re trying to tell you something and they need you there. And so you should just respond by, you know, always being there if they’re asking for it. Um, what are your thoughts on that specific parenting philosophy and how it connects to this specific situation of a toddler or a preschooler not suddenly not wanting to go to sleep by themselves.
Dr. Kim: (19:31)
Right. Great question. <laugh>
And I don’t shy away from the big questions as, as you can see. No, no fluffy softball questions here. <laugh>
Dr. Kim: (19:41)
No, that’s a, that’s a, yeah. And, and, you know, and for all the people listening that our attachment parents, you know, I, I salute you, I honor you, if that’s what you wanna believe, and that’s your thought to be a parenting in your life. You do, you, for me, you know, working from a, a therapeutic standpoint, I believe a secure attachment comes from some autonomy. A secure attachment comes from a child, knowing my parents gonna be there, no matter what, even if I’m away from her for an hour or away from him for an hour, that when I come back, they’re gonna be there or they’re gonna be in their room if I need them. But for now, I’m in my room. And having a little bit of separation is actually more healthy than being a hundred percent attached at, you know, at all times, now that being said, if a child doesn’t learn how to self soothe and self-regulate, as I mentioned earlier at a very young age, then as that child grows, it’s gonna be harder and harder to get that attachment.
Now that could also interfere with peer friendships, making friends at school mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, you know, uh, later in life, even, you know, dating and as they grow older, you know, and finding a spouse or a partner to live with, you know, all these things, um, you know, because they’re, they never learned it as a young age and they will be become more indecisive. They will have trouble making their own decisions. They will have a lack of confidence that they’re in their own abilities. And so, you know, having, like I said, that secure attachment is important, but I a hundred percent agree and I can back it up by research and we probably don’t have time to go through all of it, um, comes from having some separation and teaching that child that it’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to learn how to self soothe on their own. It’s okay to, uh, you know, go to sleep in their own bed at night, without the parent having to be there at all times. It just said, it’s just, it’s a different set of life skills that the child learns at at a young age.
Right, right. No, it’s, it reminds me, I was working with a mom of a four year old, uh, a little while ago. And she was explaining to me, um, you know, this four yearold was waking up multiple, multiple times a night. And you know, one of the discussions that I was having with this mom about is, you know, how she responds to him, um, when she, when he wakes up, but more specifically, you know, what she says to him, um, when it’s time to go to sleep. And you know, what she ha had always been saying to him was if you need me at night, you know, you can, you can wake me up and I will come to you. But then of course the problem with her explicitly saying this to a very smart, you know, strategic four year old is, you know, mommy, I need you, my finger hurts.
Mommy, I need you. I’m so thirsty. I’m so hungry. I need to just share this thought with you that I had it, you know, four o’clock in the morning. And so of course, you know, he’s taking with the best of intentions, you know, taking her well intentioned messaging, um, and, you know, turning it into permission to have a party with his mom all night. And you know, I’m, I’m not a psychologist at all, but, you know, I gave her my initial thoughts on the matter. Um, given that, you know, my three kids, I mean, my two, my, my, my first two are, are definitely older. I mean, they’re now 11 and almost nine. And then I have an almost four year old. And you know, what I said to her was, gosh, you know, I’ve never explicitly told my kids, if you need me at night, you can call out for me.
And I will come to you. I never had to explicitly tell them that because they always just knew, you know what I mean? Like I’ve never woken up to one of my kids, you know, a, a asleep like in vomit because when my kid has woken up and vomited in the middle of the night, she just knew to call me, you know, he just knew, Hey mom, I’m I need you right now. And so that is it’s, it’s just one of those things that you’re absolutely right. Like with that healthy, secure attachment, there, they can, they can be sleeping, you know, alone. And then of course separate from you, whether it also means going to school, going to daycare, et cetera, but specifically at nighttime. Um, and if you have been there for your child during the day, which chances are, if you’re listening to this podcast, you have been, then your child just instinctively will know that if something is wrong, if your child is running, a fever has thrown up, it has had a legitimate nightmare about something awful and scary. They know that they can call out for you and you don’t have to explicitly tell them that. Right.
Dr. Kim: (24:16)
I think what parents should do instead on that note is before their child goes to bed, do some positive affirmations and have them repeat. I am safe. I am, you know, in my bed, I am safe. I am in my home. I am safe. You know, my family is in the same house. I am safe. Um, I’m gonna sleep through the night, you know, do some of those positive affirmations instead. So it’s not based on, okay, come get me. If you need me from the parent, it’s based on them. And, you know, empowering them to feel like they’re safe in their own bed with, or without their parent. Right. I think that’s where it goes. And, you know, um, going back to something you said earlier, I just wanna make sure I mention this, that when I start working with a client whose child is, um, displaying some negative, uh, or disruptive behaviors, let’s say at school or in the home defiance, you know, meltdowns tantrums, et cetera.
The, one of the first things I ask in my intake is where is the child sleeping at night, nine outta 10 times, the child is sleeping in the same bed or the same room as the parent, the second, right? The second that I recommend and suggest, let’s try this, let’s do an experiment. Let’s have your child start falling asleep in their own bed. If they come see you in the middle of the night, fine, let’s start somewhere, but let’s have them at least fall asleep in their own bed, nine outta 10 times, their behaviors improve really just from being that
Just why moving them into their own sleep space.
Dr. Kim: (25:41)
Yes. And some other things too, but mm-hmm, <affirmative>, it definitely helps. And I mean, I’ve had client after client, after client that I’ve done this with and just having ha you know, allowing some space, you know, with the parents and having them sleep in their own bed at night changes a lot of things.
Right. Um, and why SP what specifically about moving the child to their own sleep space? Do you feel like is directly connected to an improvement in overall daytime behaviors?
Dr. Kim: (26:11)
For me personally, from the clients that I’ve done with I’ll speak from personal experience, or I guess professional experience is the child is empowered to start living their own life.
And like you said, a lot of things can happen during the day, which will impact or influence how the child’s gonna sleep at night. Right. So something else I do and something else I recommend and suggest is if child’s displaying a lot of behaviors, another question I ask, one of my top three questions is how much time do you spend with your child on a one-on-one basis where it’s just about them, them not running errands to the grocery store and the post office and things you have to do not with, you know, the whole family or a sibling like you and that child on a one-on-one, I call it play dates, but, you know, dating your child, you can call it whatever you want. How much attention are you in connection? Are you giving that child during the day? If a child can go to sleep at night, feeling like they have a connection, and they’re again, securely attached, because they’re getting a lot of positive attention during the day.
They’re, they’re getting notice for things they’re doing well around the house. You know, thank you for putting your dish in the sink after dinner, thank you for, you know, not jumping on the couch and, you know, taking your shoes off and putting him in the bin before you sat down. Every time that happens during the day, the child feels more empowered to have some executive functioning and start living their own life by their own means. And that’s what they should do. That’s a life skill. They need to learn and sleeping in their own bed, or at least falling asleep in their own bed, kind of correlates and goes along with all of that.
That’s that is fascinating. I, I, I never thought of it like that. I would’ve thought maybe the child is getting more uninterrupted sleep in their own sleep space because they’re no longer distracted by their parents, but you’re totally being on. And that there’s like this whole other realm of, um, behavior and thoughts, uh, that is affected by this, in like a completely different way that would’ve never even occurred to me. Um, not to say that, like the quality of sleep isn’t improving here as well. Sure. I’m sure it is when mom isn’t right there. Um, because that can be inherently distracting to these, you know, toddlers and preschoolers, even the babies, the older babies for that matter. Um, but that’s a, that’s a really, really interesting, you know, whole other perspective to be thinking about. Um, what about, what about when you’re dealing with a younger toddler, let’s say a two or a two and a half year old who might be going through separation anxiety might just also be testing the boundaries.
Right. You know, there is a very well known sleep regression, um, that happens around two years old. And again, I just wanna emphasize, it’s not a guarantee across the board that this will happen, but there is this well known phenomenon that happens around that stage, where you have a, a now a bigger toddler, you know, I guess at 18 months, they’re like a brand new, you know, mini toddler. And then by two, they’ve really started to like master the art of the temper tantrum of testing the waters, you know, pushing the boundaries. So why don’t you give us a little bit of, you know, perspective as to first of all, like, why are two year olds like, feel the need to do that because it’s just, it is so annoying Kim, like when we finally have sleep all sorted out and everything is going so nicely, all of a sudden our two year olds are now having meltdowns that they don’t wanna go to sleep. Um, unless of course, maybe you stay in the room with them. Um, and so why is this happening? And then what do you recommend for parents who are dealing with that really fun two year sleep regression?
Dr. Kim: (29:46)
<laugh> right. You know, honestly, it’s, it’s just curve balls. It’s just curve balls and parenting in life. And some things aren’t explainable. There’s no clear cut answer sometimes to some of it. Um, in the toddler years, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a very egocentric age and they’re also struggling with I’m a baby. Nope. I’m a big kid. Nope. I’m a baby. Nope. I’m a big kid and their mind is just being convoluted with all sorts of messages. They they’re trying to find autonomy. They’re trying to find independence. They’re trying to be more independent yet. They’re still so little that they they’re still in diapers most of the time. And they’re still maybe using a pacifier and they’re still treated as, as a baby. Yeah. And so they’re just struggling with, with that coming of age really. And so I think that internal struggle turns into, and maybe somebody even have the language to even share, this is what’s going on with me cuz they don’t, they don’t even have the, the cognitive capacity to understand what’s happening inside of them because there’s that, like I said, that internal conflict that’s
Happening is it sort of like the equivalent of a midlife crisis, but for a toddler great. Where, you know, at, at the, the 40 year old is like, am I younger? Am I old? Am I young? Or am I old? I’m both. Sometimes I’m really young and this, and I feel like an old woman the next day. So is this sort of the, is that the best way? I mean, that’s just what I think of as you’re describing this, like, am I a baby? Am I a toddler? Is that the equivalent? Would you say yes. And then
Dr. Kim: (31:09)
They’re gonna go through it again in their TW years. Am I a kid? Yes. Or am I a teenager? And then maybe even a teenager to an adult. I mean, there’s, there’s all these huge coming of age, life changes that they’re going through. And you know, I mean, we’re both adults, we’ve been through those stages already and some of them aren’t easy and sometimes some kids just deal with it in a different way or have a, more of a struggle with it. If you have a very verbal child, then it might be easier because they’re able to articulate some of their feelings, um, you know, or some of their emotions that are happening. And what’s going on. If you have a child that is nonverbal or doesn’t have the speech, speech and language, um, yet, uh, that maybe they’re understood, then they might act out more because they’re frustrated that they can’t communicate that to their parent.
And so they act out in different ways to be seen and heard. And so that’s when you’re gonna see maybe a lot more tantrums, a lot more biting behavior, mm-hmm <affirmative> um, maybe some more sleep aggression, things like that. So for a parent being firm and consistent will help a lot. Yeah. So making sure that they’re saying that parents are saying things in a statement format versus a question. So for example, um, can you please go to sleep in your own bed tonight versus I need you to sleep in your own bed tonight. And just a matter of fact, this is the way it’s going to be and then be consistent because the more you give that leeway, like I said, the kids are gonna learn those loopholes. And so if you say, cuz I know as a parent myself, I will, I will speak from all my own experience.
Sometimes I am so exhausted at nighttime. If my kids ask me, can I sleep in your bed tonight before I would, would sure. Yeah. Cuz I’m so tired. I can’t deal with it. It’s just easier for me. But we have to think of what’s best for our child. Even though we’re at our breaking point, we’re exhausted and we can’t take anymore. But the more firm and consistent we are with our boundaries and with our structure and our home, especially when it comes to sleep routines and you know, our rules for sleeping at night and then, you know, being a play therapist and being someone who works in, um, you know, extrinsic motivation as far as sticker charts and things like that, especially toddlers and preschoolers love sticker charts. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so I think encouraging your child in a way to say, if you sleep, if you fall asleep in your bed tonight, again, start small.
Don’t say if you sleep in your bed all night long without waking up, but if you can fall asleep in your bed tonight on your own, I’ll be right outside in the hallway or I’ll be in my room or you let them know where you’re gonna be. So they know you’re not gonna be too far. And if that child and you encourage them to take these small steps, um, again, when speaking of sleeping, you know, sleeping specifically, if you can fall asleep in your bed tonight, I’m gonna give you a sticker or a raffle ticket. And then after so many days or after a week or whatever, after five stickers, whatever it is, then they get some psycho tangible reward. It could be a toy. Yeah. Or it could just be 15 more minutes on the iPad or something like that. That doesn’t cost you any money.
Right. But yet they’re still working towards this and then they grow out of it. It doesn’t last forever. You know, it’s not like they’re gonna say, well, where’s my sticker. I set through my, my bed all night. You know, it they’re gonna start, you know, weaning out of that eventually. But it, I mean, it’s worked with my own kids. It’s worked with many of my clients to incentivize them to do certain things when it comes to sleeping in their bed, staying in their bed, things like that works with potty training, all those things at that age specifically to motivate them to, to do these
Things. Right. Right. Yeah. No, I mean, that’s what I tell, uh, my clients all the time is that it is so common for the toddlers and you know, the young preschoolers to test the waters, throw mud at the wall, see what happens if they say no, I’m not going to bed. Um, and that’s precisely what my son did multiple times over. I mean, he’s now three and a half going on four. So, you know, we’re not, he, he didn’t, he wasn’t doing, he’s not doing this exact thing anymore, but when he was about two, um, he, we of course had like a wonderful bedtime routine. I mean, I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but the Shoeman kids have shoes here. Right. Otherwise, right. Otherwise it wouldn’t be speaking and proper English at the moment. Um, but you know, our routine was rock solid where, you know, we would get him into pajamas and then we would read a couple stories and then brush your teeth and then sing a couple good night songs.
And then he’d go into the crib and I would, you know, put his blanket on top and then we’d sing a couple more good night songs while he’s lying down and I would leave. And then I wouldn’t see him until the morning. And then suddenly one day I’d put him in the crib and he decided I’m not gonna lie down. I’m just gonna stand up. And I’m gonna look at you with this like little smirk. He was 24 months. And he wasn’t very verbal then because he had two older sisters. You did all the talking for him. Right. So he was a little, little bit lazy in the talking department. So instead he just sort of looked at me and he’s just like, Nope, Nope. Like I’m not gonna lie down. And the, the funny thing is that he obviously does not know what his mother does for a living.
Right. And so I’m looking at him and I’m going, ah, chew your regression E forever kiddo. This is, this is a cute one. And I’m looking at him. And I said to him, this is gonna make for a great podcast episode. <laugh> thank you so much, bud. This is literally what I’m saying to his face. And he’s like, huh? Because I, then what I said was, you know exactly what you would’ve told people, um, remaining firm with the boundary. Okay. JJ, you don’t wanna lie down. That’s fine. I’m gonna leave. And then I’ll come and check on you in five minutes and see if you’re ready to lie down then. Um, and then I would leave. And of course he starts to cry. You know, this guy is falling and then of course you would say this guy’s not actually falling. He’s really totally. Okay.
And then five minutes later, I would come back to his room. I poked my head into his room. JJ, if you lie down, I will tuck you in and sing you a song. No. Okay. You’re, you’re not ready yet. And then spoiler alert, eventually he felt he, he eventually did figure out that I’m not playing this game with him. And he laid down and I gave him his blanket and I sang him as two good night songs and I left and then I didn’t see him until the morning. And he did this multiple times, not you multiple times in a row, but he wicked out every now and then decided to test the waters and then eventually realized that it was clearly not worth it. <laugh> right. Cause mommy was not gonna play this game. Um, but that is, I think a real life example of how we can make sure that, you know, we’re remaining firm with these boundaries, um, supporting our kids, but at the same time, recognizing, okay, where is this coming from?
Uh, he’s two years old. He wants to test out, you know, what happens if he says no, um, and protest and fights, the good fight. And this is what ends up happening. And it ended up sort of dying out that phase very, very quickly. Versus I can tell you that when, when people sort of give in and they say, oh my gosh, I can’t leave. I guess my kid is going through separation anxiety. And so this must mean that he needs me in the room the entire time. It’s like check mate, you know, right now this is, this is his new habit. This is the new expectation. And um, and it’s you, now that you have this new habit and behavior, it’s gonna be so much harder for you to, you know, get up and start to leave again. And of course that can create this whole domino effect with you might wake up and realize that you’re not there. And so at two o’clock in the morning, you might need to come back into the room to sit there, there until they fall back asleep. So you, in other words, like you’re not, you don’t tell parents who are dealing with similar situations, oh, your kid obviously needs you sit in the room, you know, for that period of time, until they, until they go to sleep, that’s not your
Dr. Kim: (38:50)
No. Yeah, yeah. I don’t do that. Um, because the child doesn’t actually need them in that moment. Most of the time. Yeah. The child is going through a power struggle. And so what we need to do as parents is, is, as you did in your example is eliminate that power struggle. You know, we can say things, well, it looks like you’re not ready yet to go to sleep. So I’ll give you a few minutes and then I’ll come back and I’ll check on you and see if you’re ready then. And then, you know, give it five minutes, 10 minute intervals, whatever the case is. Yeah. And like you said, eventually they’re gonna realize, oh, there is no power struggle because they’re not budging. They’re not giving in. Yeah. So I better just go to sleep. Cause I’m exhausted. Like I’m
Yeah, this sucks. This is boring. Right. You know, <laugh>
Dr. Kim: (39:32)
Now when they’re older, I mean, that’s more for toddler ages, you know? Cause I said, that’s where their developmental cognitive capacity is. Yeah. When they’re a little bit older and they can rationalize rationalize a little bit more, you can start with some of the kind of some empathy or some validation. I know, you know, it’s hard for you to go to sleep in your bed at night. I know, you know, you, you know, you said you’re scared, you know, I’m scared too sometimes. And then, you know, let, let them know that what they’re feeling is okay, you know, it’s okay to be a little scared or it’s okay to, but let’s talk about it. I’m gonna support you. And then let’s move on again, do some positive observations, whatever the case is. But the rule is still gonna remain the same. The boundary is still gonna remain the same. There’s still expectations for their behavior to go to sleep on in their bed, you know, at that time. Right. That’s not the waiver, but how you communicate with them and the language you use and how you validate them and whatnot, that’s what you’re going to add to it, to make them feel safe. And then you still leave and you still do your thing too. And that really teaches
Them that lesson as well. Right. Right, right. And would you say that this also translates beautifully to, let’s say when they’re starting a new daycare or they’re starting, you know, nursery school and it’s the same sort of thing. Like don’t leave me, you know, and then they’re crying because you know, mommy’s leaving. Um, does that sort of trans you know, apply directly to that scenario as well?
Dr. Kim: (40:49)
Absolutely. You know, it’s, it’s harder for the parent for them to leave. Let’s say their child in a different care environment, let’s say a daycare or a preschool or something. It’s harder for us. I’ll say us as parents to see them cry and think, oh no, I shouldn’t leave them. Like it makes our heart stop. It makes our stomachs feel sick. Right. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, I’ve been there, you know, and it, it doesn’t feel good, but the quicker we leave, the, the more we don’t linger and the more we deceive they’re going to be resilient and they’re gonna acclimate to that new environment really quickly. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, I used to take my child to a daycare when she was little, when I had to work. And she was only, you know, about a year, a year or two old. And she would cry, not all the time, but every once in while she’d cry and then I would just hate leaving, but I did it as quickly as possible a cuz it was painful for me to watch and I knew it was hard for her mm-hmm <affirmative> and I, you know, had, I obviously been educated and versed in all this already.
And so I would just leave and then I’d get, I’d get a text by the time I walked to my car sometimes from the front door to my car, parked across the street or maybe a few minutes after from the daycare person saying she’s already fine. She stopped crying. She’s having a snack and playing with her friends. Yeah. And it’s that quick sometimes it’s that simple. But if we linger and we stick around, then the child’s gonna get the message. Oh see, mommy’s not okay. Something must be wrong and that’s gonna activate the anxiety even more. Cause they’re gonna think, well, if mommy’s still here, that must mean something’s not right. Or they’re scared or they’re, you know, um, upset or they’re anxious. Therefore I should be the same way.
Dr. Kim: (42:18)
Instead of us just leaving and saying, I love you goodbye. I’ll be back in a couple hours and leaving, then they’re gonna know, oh, everything’s okay with mommy. She’s fine. Right. So everything must be okay for me. I’m fine.
Dr. Kim: (42:31)
Applies in different settings.
Yeah. And eventually that, you know, fear subsides when they experience day in and day out. Okay. Mommy’s dropping me off. Mommy’s leaving. And then, oh, look at that. Mommy came back, you know, exactly mommy didn’t disappear. And so they see, you know, as, as time goes on, um, that there, there, there is nothing to worry about in that department making that drop off, go so much more smoothly. Absolutely. In the grand scheme of things. Um, this has been so helpful. Kim, I tell you like people are just gonna eat this up because I feel like when we’re talking about separation anxiety specifically that there is just, so there there’s a, there’s a lack of awareness I think around, you know, what it is and then what it means tangibly, you know, for us as parents, when we need to be supporting our kids going through this. So I think that you’ve given, you’ve given my listeners such practical insight into what exactly is happening, um, in terms of, you know, brain development and whatnot and what they need from us and what they don’t need from us. Um, so thank you so much for taking the time to speak to everyone. Where can people find you if they want more of you in their life?
Dr. Kim: (43:49)
Oh, well thank you. And at first I just wanna say it’s been such a pleasure to be on the, your podcast and just share some of this with other parents out there. Um, I really love what I do. I’m so passionate about what I do and about parenting and about children. So thank you for the opportunity first and foremost. Um, second of all, I would love to make more friends I’d love, uh, for anyone that wants you to reach out to me. They can find me on my website, which is theologist.com. Uh, they can look me up on my podcast if they’d like at the ologist podcast and I’m on Instagram, Facebook, I’m on, I’m on all of ’em. I think mm-hmm <affirmative> um, at the pathologist, I think the only one that’s different is, is Twitter. If any Twitter uses are still out there, it’s at Dr. Ologist. Um, but other than that, it’s at the dermatologist. I’d love for you to reach out and say hello, and if you have any questions, you know, let me know how I can support you.
Amazing. Amazing. No. And your, your, I mean, I, I follow you on Instagram and your Instagram feed is so stacked with amazing free content. Like you don’t, you don’t skimp on your quality content there. Um, so for those of you who are on Instagram, you should definitely give Kim a follow. Thank you so much again for your time. Thank you so much everyone for listening and uh, I hope you all have a great
Day. Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, leave a review and share this episode with a friend who can benefit from it. I also love hearing from my listeners. So feel free to DM me on Instagram @my leepingbaby, or send me an email at Eva@mysleepingbaby.com until next time, have a wonderful restful nights.