Many parents express concern when it comes to their children napping at daycare or a babysitter's house. Since a babysitter is normally much more flexible, I'm going to focus this post on daycares and other childcare centers, but it will still apply no matter who watches your child.
Sometimes the issue is a daycare wanting to force a certain schedule on a child, other times it's simply that a child has trouble sleeping in a different environment. Here are my best tips for working with your caregiver to optimize your child's naps while in their care.
Know the regulations in your state.
No matter what the issue is, make sure you know what the regulations are that your childcare center needs to be following. Sometimes that alone can help the issue. For example, I often have parents tell me that their daycare wants to transition their child to one nap as soon as they turn 1-year old. For some children, this might work out okay, but others may not be ready for this transition for another few months. As a result, the child begins having sleep issues- waking at night, early in the morning, and refusing naps are some common ones.
I've also had clients tell me that their daycare decides their child's morning and afternoon nap schedule, and that it has to be the same for all children in their care. However, this may not work for all children assuming they are different ages and can handle different awake times. When a child hasn't been awake long enough, he will fight sleep due to not being tired enough. When a child has been awake too long, he will fight sleep because he is overtired. Using appropriate wake times for a child's age are important for the child, but would also benefit those caring for him.
Some states have regulations against the caregiver deciding the above. If you live in the state of Illinois, for example, they are, by law, not allowed to force certain nap times on your child. Here's the specific Illinois code:
Section 407.350 Napping and Sleeping
a) 2) Infants and toddlers shall be allowed to rest or sleep according to each child's individual pattern, as determined in consultation with parents.
So, if you live in Illinois and your daycare is trying to push a certain schedule on your child, give them this code and push back. It is up to you as the parent to determine your child's sleeping pattern. Unfortunately, not all states are this specific, but many are. If you can't find your state's regulations on this, ask your childcare to provide a copy. If your child is cared for by a babysitter or family member, you usually have more control over your child's schedule. Make sure this person is willing to adhere to your requests before signing them on. Your child is, afterall, your child and should be cared for the way you want him to be.
Mimic Home as Much as Possible
If your child is cared for outside of your home, it greatly helps to mimic your child's home sleeping environment as much as possible. For example, if your child sleeps in complete darkness, with a sound machine, a sleep sack, and a pacifier at home, then he should have all of these same things wherever he is cared for during the day as well. Consistency and routines are so helpful with little ones.
This can be hard in some daycare situations, but it never hurts to at least ask. Like I said above, know your state's regulations. In Pennsylvania, where I am, there is a regulation that each child being cared for must have his own sleep space provided and they are not to be shared. So, in this case, there should be room for some customization at your request, as long as your requests are within safety regulations, of course.
Also, maybe your childcare provider doesn't know that a sound machine is such a helpful tool in helping kids sleep. If they have multiple kids sleeping in one room, it would help them ALL sleep better if there was a sound machine on. Be your child's advocate and ask. You can even offer to provide the sound machine for them!
If your child is used to complete darkness, and this isn't something the daycare is able to achieve, you may consider something like a SlumberPod. A SlumberPod is a portable privacy pod that goes over a travel or mini crib, or toddler cot. It provides a private, dark place for your little one to sleep away from home. We've used ours on various vacations. It's a must-have for travel with little ones, or if your baby ever has to sleep away from home.
Some states do have a regulation against covering the crib with anything, so they may not be able to use this. However, other states may be fine with it. Again...it never hurts to ask and provide it if it is possible. If your child is being cared for at a babysitter's house or nanny-share situation, you can probably use this with no problem!
If you are able to use a SlumberPod, use the code LittleBellSS at checkout for $20 off!
Work With a Sleep Consultant
Whenever I take on a client with childcare as a factor, I try to take the brunt of working with their provider. I often provide a letter that the parents can give to their caregiver. It explains my sleep plan for the child (in much briefer terms), why it's important, and why I really need them to be on board (remember, consistency helps). I offer to correspond with the childcare workers to find a schedule and situation that works best for everyone. I am familiar with the regulations in my state (and many others as well), so I can help parents navigate what they can and can't change.
As a sleep consultant, I'm also willing to help care centers in general with sleep best practices, age-appropriate schedules, and anything else that can benefit the children you care for. If you're a care provider, feel free to contact me! You can also find a free download of my Sleep/Wake Times Chart on my website.
Consider the Cost
At the end of the day, you want your child cared for in the best way possible. A good caregiver should respect your parenting goals and requests as much as they can. I've had consultations that were hard to make progress because of resistance with daycare. The child's nighttime sleep issues were being affected by what the daycare was doing during the day. I always try to tweak the plan to fit, but there is only so much I can do in that type of situation when it remains the cause of the child's sleep issues.
If your caregiver is unable or unwilling to work with you on the schedule and/or sleeping environment, is it worth it? Maybe the answer is finding another means of care that will work with you and your child's needs. Sleep is so important. A child does 75% of his growth and development while sleeping. Don't let a childcare situation keep your child from getting the good sleep he needs.
Trusting another person or center to care for your child during the day can come with some challenges. Knowing the regulations, mimicking home, and using expert reinforcement can help! If not, you may want to consider another option to make sure your child is getting the deep, restorative rest that he needs!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant