If your child is starting daycare, you may be worried about how well they’ll nap when they’re away from home.
If your little one is a great napper, you may be worried that the transition or change in routine will disrupt what’s been working so well at home. If your child struggles to nap well or needs specific circumstances to fall asleep, like total darkness, complete quiet, rocking, or motion, you may be afraid that they won’t nap at all! Since naps are a key component of healthy sleep until at least three or four years of age, it’s important to do everything you can to help your child be well-rested in their new “home away from home.”
So what can you do to help your child get the sleep they need when someone else is in charge of their routines and schedules?
1. Choose a daycare provider that respects the need for sleep.
Many daycare providers expect children in each age group to conform to the same daily nap schedule. Others are more flexible and will cater to each child’s individual sleep needs. When interviewing providers, be sure to ask if they’re willing to put your child down when they’re tired rather than asking them to adhere to a rigid, communal napping schedule. If your child is adaptable, a group schedule can work well – if not, and there are other daycares in your area, you’ll want to investigate other options.
2. Get the details about napping.
It may seem obvious but don’t forget to ask for all the pertinent details regarding how the daycare manages naps. Make a list and bring it with you when you interview providers. Ask to see where your child will be sleeping (crib, pack-n-play, cot?) if they’ll have a dedicated sleep space (the same crib or cot every day?), and if you can bring familiar items like sheets, white noise machines, and loveys to help your child feel more comfortable.
Be sure to ask about pre-sleep routines – do they turn down the lights at nap time or leave the lights on? Is the room completely quiet, or are other activities happening simultaneously in other parts of the room? Do they swaddle? Do they routinely hold, rock, or feed children to sleep, or do they put them down awake and allow them to fuss for a few minutes before they nod off? Avoid last-minute surprises by understanding their protocols and planning.
3. Ask for what your child needs.
If you’re impressed with a daycare facility, but their sleep policies aren’t well suited to your child, it never hurts to ask if there’s room for compromise. Policies may be flexible, or they may be willing to make an exception if you’re persuasive enough with your request.
For example, many daycare centers move children to the toddler room on their first birthday and only offer one nap a day. Since most children aren’t ready to drop their morning nap until sometime between fifteen to eighteen months of age, this can be problematic. If your child isn’t ready, explain why moving him will be detrimental, and find out if they might be willing to keep him in the baby room for a few more months until he is, or ask if they can take him back to the baby room just for his naps.
Don’t be afraid to ask for your child’s needs, and don’t assume that they won’t be receptive. Let them know what works and doesn’t work for your child, and be open to their suggestions as well. Remember, it’s in the provider’s best interest to keep your child well-rested. Good naps make for a happy child, which makes for a happy caregiver!
4. Help your child adjust to the daycare’s schedule.
If the daycare you select can’t accommodate your child’s individual nap schedule, you may need to help your child adapt to the daycare’s schedule. Start by gradually shifting your child’s schedule by five or ten minutes every other day until it matches the daycare schedule, and be open to an earlier bedtime to keep your child from becoming overtired. For example – If your child ordinarily takes three naps a day, say at 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 4:15 p.m. – but the daycare has a two nap schedule, maybe at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. – work on stretching your child’s awake time by five or ten minutes every other day and make bedtime earlier to counteract the missing third nap.
Note: I can’t tell you how many moms tell me that their child is a terrible napper at home but sleeps like a champ at daycare! If this is the case with your child, find out exactly what daycare is doing, and try duplicating it at home. Also, even very young children are remarkably adept at learning “who does what” when it comes to sleep. If your baby learns that a caregiver won’t rock or pat her to sleep, she’s much more likely to fall asleep without complaining when that caregiver puts them down (even though you may have to rock or pat them for hours yourself at home!).
5. Work on independent sleep skills at home.
If your child is at least five or six months of age and has sleep associations that interfere with their ability to nap well, consider implementing some gentle sleep coaching strategies at home to help them learn to put themselves to sleep without them. Children with independent sleep skills almost always sleep better than children who don’t, no matter where they sleep or who’s in charge.