Sleep is an enormously important part of the lives of babies and toddlers. They require a lot more sleep than adults, and naturally some of this sleep must come from naps during the day. Generally speaking a young child will need morning and afternoon naps until they are around three years of age, so it is important for child care workers to gain an understanding of the How’s and Why’s of children and their sleep.
As with adults, exactly how much sleep is required and when, can vary considerably. Cultural norms and expectations also need to be considered when you are caring for other people’s children. Generally speaking though there are some patterns that are worth noting to help you plan for the children in your care to get adequate sleep in the daytime.
Signs of tiredness
It’s always best and easier for a child to have a nap before they get overtired, so it’s good to be able to recognise signs of tiredness. Signs to look for include:
Newborns: frowning, yawning, clenched fists, staring, jerky movements of the limbs.
Older babies: excessive yawning, separation anxiety, irritation, loss of interest in activities.
Toddlers: irritation and emotional tension, temper tantrums, clumsiness, taking longer than usual to perform tasks, crying.
Difficulties with sleep
It is very common for babies and toddlers to have difficulty getting to sleep, and staying asleep – ask any mother! There is a myriad of reasons for this, and they can be both emotional and physical. Some common reasons why young toddlers and babies might not nap easily include:
- Discomfort being by themselves
- Fear of missing out on activities
- Too much excitement or anxiety, preventing them from relaxing
- Physical sensations such as hunger or thirst, or being unwell in some way
- Change of pattern or routine from an established pattern at home
Recognising and addressing the issues above can assist with remedying any resistance to napping. You will quickly learn that demanding a child to “go to sleep” is ineffective! Check too (if required) that the child is wearing a fresh nappy and is adequately clothed and comfortable. Above all, it is important to try to establish a routine and avoid children becoming overtired before napping.
Establishing a sleep routine
Encouraging children to take naps according to a plan or routine can be challenging. Here are some tips that will help you achieve your daytime sleep plans:
- Transitioning smoothly into rest time
For pre-schoolers or slightly older toddlers, naptime might be suitable after lunch. If you are looking after a group of children who tend to finish their meals at different times, think of some calming activities that the children who have finished eating may want to do. Doing puzzles, quiet games or reading books are good examples. This way the children who have finished eating stay quiet and calm while the others are finishing their lunch.
Another good idea to signal that nap time is approaching is to dim the lights, reduce noise and other sensory distractions and play some gentle music. By transitioning the children this way, you will make napping a lot easier than if you allow the children to run around the playground straight after lunch.
- Organising a suitable rest area
Use the same area every day for children to take their naps. This way they will associate the area with resting and will feel more comfortable doing so. Ensure it is a warm and comfortable environment with sleeping mats, blankets and cushions to encourage children to snuggle up and close their eyes. Some child care facilities encourage children to bring a cuddle toy from home to sleep with – however it is best to check any policies or rules about toys from home first before suggesting this. It’s also a good idea to keep the ‘chatterers’ away from the others to ensure that those children who want to sleep are not disturbed.
- Ensuring that each individual child has their resting needs met
Not all children have the same temperament or sleep needs, so it may be a mistake to organise a set rest time for all children. Instead (and particularly with babies and toddlers) you may wish to let them set their own schedule and perhaps have a transitioning area nearby where the children not sleeping can sit quietly and play pre-and post-nap. Speak to the parents about sleep habits at home if you find you have a child that is particularly resistant to day time sleeps.
- Creating a healthy routine involving physical activities
Stimulating physical activity will help the child rest and improve their appetites. If you plan outdoor play and games around the transition and nap times, this will help to ensure that the children are tired at the right times.
Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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