Preventing head liceSuccessful Sleep Strategies in Child Care

Across the world people sleep in different ways, some people sleep in beds while others use hammocks or mats on the floor. Some people sleep alone, some with a spouse or children or both. Some people only sleep at night while others value an afternoon nap. How and when people sleep has a lot to do with their culture and customs. This may include where they live, how their family sleeps, even how big the house is or how many bedrooms it has.

Child care providers have a role in providing a sleep environment that is comfortable and safe for the children in their care. Ensuring children have enough sleep is as important as feeding them healthy food and ensuring they receive plenty of fresh air and exercise.

Sleep environments in a child care setting can be very different to those in the home for example:
  • A child care service is likely to be more or less active than a child's home environment. Many children share rooms with a sibling or may sleep in noisy houses, others have complete silence. Learning about the home sleep environment of the children in your service will improve your chances of successful sleep in the child care setting.
  • Babies who are nursed to sleep, held or put in a sling may find a crib lonely and frightening. Parents who use a sling may bring one into the centre for you to use. Babies used to being held may benefit from being swaddled.
  • A toddler used to two daytime naps may have trouble adjusting to a new afternoon nap schedule. If the toddler can't sleep in the morning consider setting up a quiet corner where sleepy toddlers can retreat for quiet time.
What can providers do to help children feel more at home during nap time?
  • Try and think of sleep and nap routines as part of a child's individual curriculum. All children have individual sleep requirements and you will have most success if you try and work within those parameters.
  • Child care providers should discuss an infant or toddlers sleep patterns with a parent before they start care. When you understand how and when a child sleeps at home you can use that information to plan when they will sleep in care.
  • Brainstorm ways to adapt your rooms to help children feel at home during nap times. A baby used to a noisy sleep environment might sleep better in a bustling class room setting while busy toddlers will benefit from a peaceful quiet environment free from noise and stimulation.
  • Encourage families to provide a familiar item from home if it assists the child to sleep. Special blankets of soft toys may help young babies and toddlers feel connected with home and more peaceful. Toys should only be used for babies 12 months and older.
  • Share sleep information with families during drop off times. Parents will benefit from the information you give them and you may benefit from their experience at home.
Have you noticed that some children fall asleep at the same time everyday no matter what is going on? Have you noticed other children who fall asleep easily some days and at other times just can't settle? Some toddlers nap less during the day and sleep longer at night while others seem to need a long sleep during the day.

Successful rest times depend on these five things:
  • Meeting each child's individual needs for sleep
  • Setting up a good daily schedule with plenty of physical activity
  • Making a smooth transition to rest time
  • Planning where rest time will take place
  • Creating a calm mood for sleeping and quiet play
Meeting each child's individual needs for sleep
Each child's sleep habits are individual and may depend on their temperament. Some babies are easy going and adapt to new situations quickly while others need a routine that is the same every day.

Infants and very young toddlers sleep at many different times of the day, so it may not work well to have a set naptime for the whole group. Older toddlers are usually ready to follow a nap schedule around the time when they settle on a single nap after lunch. Use the child's signals to plan the day for that child. Let babies and toddlers set their own schedules as much as possible.

Since not all children will nap at the same time, make a safe place in your child care space that you can supervise easily. It is good if the children know that they can rest anytime they are feeling tired. While some older preschoolers will ask to rest, most often the children will need you to suggest a rest time. Truly tired children will be able to sleep even if the area is a little noisy.

Set up a good daily schedule
Successful rest times depend on setting up a busy daily schedule. A good daily schedule has time for active indoor/outdoor play. Sufficient exercise and stimulation will help all children to eat and rest better.

Make a smooth transition to rest time
For older toddlers and pre-schoolers, rest time most often follows lunchtime. Moving from the lunch table to rest time can be a difficult transition. Since children finish eating at different times, the children who finish first should be given something to do while the others finish eating to avoid disruption. Toddlers can be asked to clear their place, wipe the table, and wash their faces and hands.

Choose a quiet activity like reading or puzzles to help children stay calm after the meal. It is much harder to calm the children if they race away from the table and run around the room than it is to maintain the post-lunch lull.

Turn the lights down low and play some soft music as children are finishing lunch. This signals that it is time for rest.

Plan where rest will take place
When deciding where to have children rest, keep the following in mind:
  • Children who are likely to try and talk to each other and play should be physically separated.
  • Try and ensure children sleep in the same place each day, this will increase a child's sense of calm and may help him/her drop off more quickly.
Creating a calm mood for sleeping and quiet time
Children relax most easily if rest time is similar to their experiences at home. An important question to ask parents is how their child likes to fall asleep. Allow children to bring special items from home if they are part of the sleep routine. Children should be allowed to use these when they need them in child care, and should not be asked to share them.

Your role during rest time is very important. Try to the best of your ability to match what happens at home for each child. Here are some ideas that help.
  • Find out how a child is treated at home. Rocking, patting, back rubs, or simply leaving him/her on his/her own are some of the many ways that adults help children go to sleep.
  • Let the children who do not sleep quietly go and select a book.
  • Model a calm, relaxing, and restful mood so the children will pick up the mood from you.
Waking up
When rest time is over, try and make this a careful transition as some children wake up cranky after napping. Let the children take their time waking up, and move the children who are already awake away from the ones who are still sleeping. Keep the lights low as you wake the children so that the environment is calm and peaceful.

Information to share with parents
Many parents of children with sleep ‘issues’ are amazed when their toddler sleeps in a child care setting. If parents come to you with questions or issues about their child's sleeping patterns at home you may be a helpful source of reassurance.
  • Acknowledge how hard it is to have a child who doesn't sleep and how exhausting it is for everyone. Remind parents that sleep deprivation is hard for everyone.
  • When parents ask about night time waking explain that there is no one strategy that works for every family and steer them to community services such as Tresillian.
  • Help parents understand that it is important to be consistent in responding to night waking. When parents do the same thing every night the baby will have a better idea of what is expected.
  • Ask about the family bed time routine and explain that many babies and toddlers manage better with a well established bed time routine.
  • Some babies and toddlers lose sleep if they are experiencing stress. Ask the parents to think about any changes in environment or family situation which could be causing their child anxiety.
  • White noise helps some young babies to drop off, a vacuum cleaner, running tap or even a CD of white noise. 
How do you settle the children in your service? Go to CareforKids Social to share your tricks and tips.

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