Starting Daycare & Sleep

We can have such a mix of emotions when our kids are starting daycare. It can feel overwhelming and scary and that’s just for us as parents!!!! In addition to the normal thoughts and concerns we can have about them starting daycare we can also really worry about what will happen with their sleep while at daycare. We can find ourselves either thinking that:

- their already poor sleep is just going to be worse OR - their excellent sleep routines are going to be all thrown out as they are in a new place.

We would love to share some tips and thoughts with you.

1. Understand the sleep environment

a) Make sure you view where the babies and children will sleep as some places will not have a designated sleep space, some places will only offer cots to a certain age and so forth

b) Be comfortable asking questions about how they manage sleep time, what’s the lighting like during sleep and what sort of white noise it used for example

c) Ask how do they manage a child that may be very upset while others are sleeping

2. Ensure the daycare supports your approach to sleep

a) Fits in with your sleep schedule For example some daycares will only support one nap for a child of a certain age but if your child is on two naps this could be problematic. You want to find a place that will support your child’s unique needs and supports that schedule

b) Sleep routine Of course you don’t expect your daycare to follow the routine exactly because they are caring for a group of children together. However, you would like to know they will ensure certain elements are maintained for example quiet time before bed, nappy change before sleep, being given their lovey 10 minutes before bed and anything that you can translate into their environment. We read a recent post on a page where one daycare was refusing to place a baby in a sleeping bag and this was an important part of their sleep cues and comfort. The poor mum was trying to work out if this was a normal policy and what to do.

c) Getting to sleep It’s so critical that you have this conversation with the daycare to ensure that they support how your child finds their way to sleep. If you don’t want them to pat your child to sleep or rock them or feed them to sleep then you want to ensure they are 100% on board. While it’s true that babies and children can do fairly well with understanding that there may be a slight different in routines between home and daycare, you really want to avoid them introducing or reintroducing sleep props you don’t want used. This conversation with the centre needs to also include what you want them to do if your child struggles to fall asleep too. Of course there are other children to be taken into account so it’s an important part of the chat.

3. Prepare your child

This is age-dependent but where possible talk to your child about what sleep will be like at daycare. Take some photos if you can without other children in shot and show your child before you attend orientation. Then at orientation take your child into the sleep space and again talk about it. Having this preparation can be very helpful for your child.

4. Patience with the change

Know that it’s very likely that your child will take time to adjust. They may miss naps, struggle to fall asleep initially or have short naps and this can certainly make it tough to start with but remain patient. Don’t panic and think it’s always going to be this way. Depending on the age and personality of your little one it can take time for them to get used to this…….but they will. Remember the staff are professionals who are used to this too so they will also be able to provide you with reassurance.

5. Accept nap quality and length won’t be same as at home

This isn’t always the case and in fact some parents report that their children end up sleeping better at day care! Sometimes they are so tired they crash or they just follow the way it’s done without fuss at daycare the same way they suddenly are angels for grandparents!!

However in many cases they won’t sleep as long and the depth of sleep won’t be the same as there is more noise and movement around. It’s just one of those things and you will need to take that into account for how you manage their evenings on those days.

6. Kids will learn and cope with differences

Your little ones will be able to adjust to things being different at daycare. For example, they may sleep in a cot at home and adjust to a stretcher bed at daycare. They may be used to a very dark room at home and it’s much lighter at daycare. They will come to understand these differences and accept them.

7. Sleeping on way home

Be aware that if your child has less sleep than normal at daycare (especially to start with) or just worn out, you may end up with a sleeping little one in the car on the journey home despite windows down and singing Old MacDonald at full voice! These power naps can be surprisingly refreshing for your little one and even just a few minutes of sleep can really re-energise them. You will need to come to understand the impact this will then have on what time they go to bed that evening and you may need to push it back depending on how long they have slept in the car. If they are lacking sleep from the day then you may not need to change anything but just to keep this in mind.

8. Over tired when home if haven’t slept much and/or from busy stimulating day

There was a great article circulating around recently about what a child would really like you to understand about how they feel when they get home from day care. Did you see that? It refers to the fact that they are processing a lot and just may not be themselves. This could translate into very hyperactive or very tired or both in quick succession! Be aware of giving them some additional down time, pick your battles and keep things simple. If they have eaten well at school then even just a snack for dinner might be okay if they are super tired. Be aware you may need to be slightly more accommodating to deal with the tiredness. Be firm on what needs to be firm but sometimes you may need to adjust for tiredness too.

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