One of the typical developmental stages that we see with the families we work with is the stage of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a common and completely normal phase of development that can have a negative effect on sleep. It usually emerges between 7-10m of age and can persist into toddlerhood.
Below are some ideas for playtime that can help your child work through this stage. To deal with normal age-appropriate separation anxiety, you need to make your baby feel secure with separations. Consistency is key to make sure your baby becomes secure that you are still there and you will return! When you separate from your child, always let him know you are going (to another room, out, etc.) in a matter-of-fact manner and when you reunite, come back with a big cheerful greeting.
You can play these games to help your child develop object permanence and show him that separations are met with cheerful reunions:
Peek-a-Boo: Playing Peek-A-Boo can help with the separation anxiety that is disrupting sleep. Use a cloth or scarf to very briefly hide your face or your child’s face and then revealing yourself to him can help him realize that you exist even though he can't see you.
Find-the-toy: Place an interesting toy under a cloth and ask your child "where's ______?" Lift up the blanket to show him. Once he starts uncovering the toy, you'll know he's getting the idea of object permanence.
Hide-and-seek: Introduce your child to "Hide-and-Seek". While you're likely not quite at the stage of counting to 20 and yelling "ready or not, here I come", you can start by hiding yourself around the corner or behind the couch and then call to your child. If he responds by looking toward your voice or crawling to you (if able), respond really positively with a big smile and laugh. This will teach him that separation okay, that you are still there when he can't see you and that happy reunions always happen after separations.
Separation anxiety can be a tough stage for your child and for you but working towards building the skill of object permanence and practicing with short separations will go a long way in helping you and your child sail through this stage.