Settling into sleep routines in care

Blog Image for article Settling into sleep routines in care

Sleep is vital for your child's health, happiness, and overall development, but sometimes it can feel like a fickle business.

Hard-won sleep routines may change overnight when your baby or toddler starts childcare, and where one child finds it hard to settle in a new sleep room with new caregivers, another child might nap so well during the afternoon that they can't sleep at night.


Whether they're clocking up too little or too much sleep at childcare, the flow-on effects can ring alarm bells for parents. Tired and emotional evenings or sleepless nights are a nightmarish prospect for families, but the good news is that children are adaptable and there are lots of ways that parents and caregivers can work together to help little snoozers establish a good sleep pattern at childcare, with time for rest and relaxation too.

Sleeping well in childcare

Although the transition to childcare can upset your child's sleep patterns for the first few weeks, The Sleep Store says, 'Kids almost always surprise us by adapting quicker than we anticipate.'

This means that although your baby might have trouble settling into that new mattress without Mummy's usual back rub, or your toddler might be too excited to nap, they will get used to their new daytime sleep environment – with a little help from the grown-ups in their life.

To help your youngster self-settle and nap well at childcare, The Sleep Store recommends:

Visiting the education and care service before your child starts

Starting at a new service can be overwhelming, so a pre-visit with Mum or Dad (and some short bursts without you) gives your child a chance to get used to the environment and become comfortable with caregivers. If possible, arrange a visit that coincides with their naptime, so your child can practice catching some ZZZs in the new setting.

Drop your child off with a comfort item

Once they start in a childcare service, it helps to pack a sleep aid with their daily belongings. Sleep aids come in all shapes and sizes and whether your tot has a special sleeping bag or a snuggly toy, a comfort item will help them feel relaxed and form a positive sleep association in the childcare setting.

Communicating with educators

At a high-quality service, education and care providers are professionals with lots of experience in recognising fatigue, understanding emotions, and settling young children. You can help educators, though, by explaining your child's usual sleep routine like what time they usually nap and what sleep cues you use at home so that they can mimic this routine as closely as possible at care.

You can also ask for the same caregiver to settle your child each time, call the service if you're worried about their sleep, and ask staff how things are going as the days and weeks progress such as how long your baby napped for or whether your toddler needed much help to get to sleep.

Be accepting of differences between childcare and home

There's no place (exactly) like home and when it comes to sleep, educators may have different settling techniques for you, sleep rooms may be noisier and busier than bedrooms, and your child might be snoozing more or less than you’d usually like. 

Your child will soon realise that there are sleep rules for childcare and sleep rules for home, but if you're concerned about something, then the best thing is to speak with their caregiver and find a solution together. For instance, if your child is ruining their night-time sleep with a long afternoon nap, then the educator could wake them after an agreed time.

Lots of parents report their children sleep differently at home and at care (e.g. they might have a daytime nap at care, but not at home), but try not to worry. The Sleep Store says, 'If your child is content and happy it may just be that you need to let go a little bit and accept that their routine may vary somewhat on days when they are in childcare.'

You can rest assured that early childhood educators have tips, tricks, and lots of experience to support your family and help your little one sleep well.

They are also required to follow safe sleep and rest practices, so let's see what this means for all the children in their care.


Sleep rules for child care services

For the last two years, the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care has required all childcare services to have sleep, rest, and relaxation policies and procedures in place.

This means that whether your child goes to long day care, family day care, or a preschool, there will be practices to make sure they're sleeping safely in a safe environment, and being offered individualised opportunities for R&R.

You can read more about safe sleep practices here and when it comes to your child’s sleep needs, National Quality Standard says that services must provide, 'Appropriate opportunities to meet each child’s need for sleep, rest and relaxation.'

To do this, it's recommended that caregivers follow these evidence-based practices:

  • They should ensure that sleepy children can nap without being disrupted, tired children can rest in a comfortable and safe area, and non-sleepy children can enjoy 'alternative quiet activities and experiences.'
  • Caregivers should remember there are lots of strategies that can be used to help individual children sleep and rest, such as taking into account their age and development.
  • Educators should look for children's sleep cues like yawning, rubbing their eyes, losing interest in activities, crying, or seeking comfort, and respond to these cues.
  • Caregivers should minimise children’s distress or discomfort and also acknowledge their fears, feelings, and emotions.
  • They should understand the importance of young children forming bonds with familiar carers to help them 'settle confidently', especially from the age of newborn to three years.
  • And last but not least, services should provide a safe and sleep-friendly environment, a quiet, well-ventilated, and comfortable sleep room, for youngsters.

These practices mean that your child can rest, relax and sleep when they need to, and not at a universal 'nap time'. Children who are growing out of daytime naps can play or rest quietly, and there is a real focus on children's developmental and emotional needs.

Experts from The University of Queensland have said that flexible sleep-rest practices point towards a high-quality service, so it's important to find an environment where your child’s individual needs are catered for.

A quality caregiver will communicate with you, support your child and establish a good sleep, or R&R, routine. Although there might be some emotional evenings or restless nights when they first start child care, there's a very good chance that your child will settle into their new environment and soon be sleeping like a baby, resting like a toddler, or relaxing like the individual they are.

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