ne of the things I’ve learned in my years of working at a preschool and having my own as well as clients’ kids go to preschools is that many children do not sleep well in a daycare or preschool. The last thing you want is to be away from your child for hours and then have to pick up a cranky overtired kid. Plus, if they do not sleep well during the day, they are more likely to sleep poorly at night. There are several ways to help your child sleep better and to help your child care provider help your child sleep better so you can pick up a happy, well-rested camper!
Add Comforts of Home
If your child sleeps with a particular stuffed animal or blanket, see if your child care provider will allow you to bring it. You may want to have a backup one that you can leave at daycare so you do not have to worry about forgetting to bring it to and from home. If your child does not have a lovey yet and you plan to introduce one, I recommend always having more than one and finding one that can easily be washed. Be sure to switch them out so that your child gets used to both. It is amazing how your child can tell the difference between two of the same stuffed animals or blankets if they are not interchanged frequently.
If your child sleeps with white noise on at home, see if the day care uses white noise or if they would be open to trying it. It may benefit all their children since it can shield the sleeping children from the noises of the children who are awake.
Prepare your Child
It is important to prepare your child for napping at daycare. If you have a small baby, do not have them nap in complete silence. It will not be silent when they go to school, so it is better if they are able to stay asleep through some noise at home. You do not have to walk around banging pots or anything, but try not to tiptoe through the house.
If your child is older, you can talk to them about how they will nap at school. Do not make too big a deal about it, but while you are telling them about school, do make sure to mention that they will take a nap there. Often, older children nap better at day care than at home because all the other children are doing it, and they have no choice but to stay on their mat or cot.
See if your daycare provider can inform you daily about your child’s sleep. Also be sure they know how often and for how long your child typically naps at home. Communicate with the caregiver about how your child falls asleep at home and what they need to sleep. For example, are they swaddled? do they use a pacifier? do they have a special blanket? The more information the school has, the better they will be able to ensure your child’s sleep situation is similar to home.
Make sure your daycare provider knows that you do expect your child to take naps, the longer the better (unless they have been taking very long naps that have been interfering with bedtime). Many child care providers do not realize that more naps at school, usually mean better bedtime and sleep at night.
Do Your Research
If your child is not currently at a school, or you are looking for a change, there are some items I look for in a daycare with a good sleeping environment:
- The first is a separate sleeping area. This is especially important for infant rooms, particularly larger ones. Babies sleep at all different times so there will be other babies awake when your child is trying to sleep. If there is no separate sleep area, see if the lights are turned down when a baby is sleeping. Of course, if there is a separate sleeping area, it should be monitored by a caregiver whenever a baby is sleeping there.
- I also look for schools that are willing to follow the parents’ schedule to the best of their ability. One school I visited had a white board where they wrote down all sleep schedules for children and how they went to sleep (with pacifier, swaddled, etc). This greatly impressed me.
- I also look for flexibility in when the children are transitioned to fewer naps. Many schools transition their children to one nap at 12 months, while the more typical age children actually transition is at 15–18 months. I look for schools that can be flexible with this.
- Teachers that have had some training in infant and/or children sleep habits are also a plus.
Be sure your child sleeps well at home
If your child is not sleeping well at home, they may be overtired when they go to school and thus more likely to take shorter naps. So be sure that when your child is at home, they have a good sleep environment and a good routine.
Michelle Winters, of SleepWell Sleep Solutions is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Eco-Maternity Consultant. Michelle assists parents in creating a gentle, respectful sleep plan to help their children get the sleep they need to be happy and healthy. She can also assist families identify and remove toxins in their environment.