How to help your child nap well at daycare

My son started daycare last week (insert ugly crying here). This is a big transition for most kids – and most Moms! For the last 16 months, Mr. J has been at home with me – basically all day every day. It’s hard to think about being away from him all day. It’s a BIG change. As sleep consultant and advocate for healthy sleep habits, my mind goes to sleep, and napping somewhere new.

At home, Mr. J sleeps in a dark room, on his own in his crib. At daycare, the room is not so dark, he sleeps with LOTS of other kids (who may or may not be sleeping) and he sleeps on a cot. The initial change makes a lot of parents – myself included – feel a bit uneasy. What is going to happen to my awesome little sleeper!?

Daycare – whether a home or a centre – do their best to help all their kiddos get some rest. Sleeping in a space with other kids is just the reality of the set-up and some kids are more affected by the transition than others.

So how can your little one get ready for daycare when it comes to sleep?

  1. Work on their independent sleep skills before they start – A child who already has good sleep skills will adjust more quickly than a child who is still sorting out their sleep challenges. While you’re still off with your baby, make a point to help them learn how to fall asleep on their own – for nights and naps.
  2. Introduce a comfort item – Most day cares will encourage a child to bring a comfort item (small stuffed toy or blanket). If your child doesn’t already have a comfort item, try introducing one or two, see which they take to and have one for home, and one for daycare.
  3. Count on early bedtimes for a little while – Even the best of sleepers take time to adjust to the new setting and new people. If their naps are shorter while they adjust, offer a slightly earlier bedtime for the first few weeks. This will help them avoid over-tiredness at bedtime which can result in drawn-out bedtimes and early wake-ups.
  4. Plan for extra cuddle time – Even though they’ll be having a really fun time at daycare, they will likely notice that they are getting less time with Mom and Dad. Make sure you get some extra snuggles in the evening. If they start having night wake-ups during this transition, make sure you don’t change the rules. If you hear them in the night, wait 10 minutes before you go in. If they are still awake, go in for a quick shush and pat, then back out. The more consistent you are, they quicker this phase will pass.
  5. Give them a chance to catch up when they are at home – Try and allow your baby to nap at home for all naps when they aren’t in daycare. At least when you first make the transition. This will allow them to catch up on some missed Zzz’s.

Bonus tip

Make sure daycare knows your nap routine, and ask them not to change it. For example, if your baby goes down for a nap by himself – no rocking or patting – ask them to do the same. I see this happen A LOT when babies are being watched by Grandma or Grandpa. They want ALL the snuggles they can get (and can we blame them?!). As a result they are quick to cuddle or rock baby to sleep. Introducing this habit can negatively impact baby’s sleep habits -and it can happen quickly. So no matter what your childcare arrangement is, have a conversation upfront about how you would like naps to be handled.