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Tips on helping your child nap well in childcare

Tips on helping your child nap well in childcare

Whether you’re returning to work for financial reasons, your own sanity or to further your career, the decision to put your child into childcare is always a tough one. You may have just got your wee one self-settling and napping well in a regular routine so understandably feel even more apprehensive about how beginning daycare may impact on your child’s sleep. It’s very normal, as a parent, to worry about how such a big transition is going to affect your baby or toddler and while you may notice some changes to sleep at home during the first few weeks, kids almost always surprise us by adapting quicker than we anticipate!

Here at The Sleep Store we often get asked by concerned parents how they can help make the transition to daycare a smooth one for everyone involved. While this process will vary from family to family depending on the age of the child and so on, there are definitely some tried-and-true things that any parent can do to encourage their wee one to nap well in daycare.

Arrange some visits in advance

Take the time to make some visits to your chosen childcare facility with your child before you return to work. Stay and play with your wee one and help them become familiar and content in the new surroundings. If possible, arrange some short visits where you leave your baby or toddler for an hour or so. Doing so will reassure them that when you leave you do come back. Consider arranging a visit that coincides with a nap so you can let your wee one practice settling in their new sleeping environment too.
toddler-boy-holding-parent's hand with carrier

Provide familiar sleep aids

Ensuring your little one has some comfort items from home can make a huge difference to how well they settle in a daycare sleep setting. It’s always a good idea to make sure you have a spare set of any sleep aids your child uses for just this purpose. We recommend the following items as excellent sleep associations:

  • Sleeping bag.

  • Comforter. We love cuskis but any familiar comfort object will do the trick.

  • Dummy if your child uses one.

While daycares are often noisy places, many centres play lullaby music and have a darkened sleep room for under twos. What’s more, children that are used to sleeping in quiet, dark rooms at home with white noise blaring will often settle quite happily in this much noisier setting, much to their parents’ amazement!

Repeat your child’s routine as much as possible

Talk to your daycare provider about your child’s routine at home. Let them know how often your child naps and at what times, as well as what their bedtime routine consists of. Most childcare providers will welcome this knowledge and be willing to use the information you provided to help your child settle more happily. You can also request that the same staff member settle your child for each nap until they become more comfortable and secure in the environment (most daycares do this anyway).

Stay in touch with your daycare – feel free to ask them how things are going; how long your child napped for; how long they took to settle; what assistance they required in order to go to sleep and so on.

Accept that sleep may be slightly different when in childcare from home

It’s really common for children to require a bit more assistance going to sleep at daycare than they do at home. We often hear from concerned parents that their childcare provider uses shush-pat, rocks their child or sits and rubs their back until they fall asleep. For parents who’ve spent ages avoiding or undoing these habits, the fact that they’re being used at daycare can be a real worry. However, most kids are quick to accept and learn that home and daycare are different and what goes at one place, doesn’t necessarily apply at the other. If, however, you’re really concerned about what your childcare provider is doing, then talk to them. In most instances, the facility is happy to work with you to come up with a solution that’s both practical for them and acceptable to you.

You might also hear that your child has shorter naps at daycare than at home. Try not to worry too much if they do. Often the excitement means they want to get up and play rather than missing out on all the fun! Sometimes we hear of the reverse happening where children sleep for longer at daycare, worn out from all the interaction and stimulation of the morning. If you find this is interfering with your child’s night sleep or that it’s meaning they take longer to settle at bedtime then speak with your daycare provider and ask them to wake your child after a set time.

Finally, try not to worry too much about these changes. 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. They will soon let you know if they’re coping or not!

Other parents’ suggestions

Here are some ideas from our Facebook Community for what worked for their child:

They are such professionals at putting kiddies to bed, I think they're better at it than me and they're not trying to fit in a million things during a nap time so have the time and patience to sit there rubbing little backs for ages. I never thought it would work but the kids seem to know what to do.

Our son sleeps more in care than at home! Some days I think we just pay them to watch him sleep.

My little girl started day care at 6 months. We used a cuski & dummy (only for sleep) and she was napping better there than at home. Now at 9 months we can give her a dummy and cuski anywhere and she knows it's sleep time. Keeping home and daycare as similar as possible was what helped us.

I implore people to look into options other than traditional daycare! I have used in home care (through Porse) and it’s awesome. One dedicated person looking after your kid with a maximum of 3 others. Nowhere else do you get an actual 1:4 ratio. He has never had any issues sleeping because he is in a family home, not a "sleep room".

I own/manage a daycare and my daughter, now 15.5 months, has been coming with me since she was 2 weeks old but was in my office till 4 months when she started in the babies room! She has very short sleeps as she just loves being outside and involved so after the 40min sleep cycle that is usually her sleep over. It’ not something as a parent I am too worried about as she is still happy and enjoys her time there! And has catch up sleeps at home!

I def think that a snuggley or something is helpful as it’s a settling tool and is something familiar from home. As someone who works in childcare we always follow the bedtime routine times that they have at home eg sleep times and if they have 1 or 2 sleeps..It’s always a calm environment and the teacher is there to help your child feel comfortable in this new environment :)

I think it's best to be flexible with daycare sleeps. Although we have a routine at home, I know they can't follow it to a T with 10 other babies to watch. Fairly quickly my bub worked out that there are sleep rules at childcare and rules at home. She doesn't sleep as long there, but is happy and will sleep wherever she is put - cot/swing/arms (whatever works on the day!!)

My daughter has refused bottles, dummies and any sort of sleep attachment toy. She's 1 and I have been trying SO hard at home to get her to be able to take a bottle or go to sleep without me but she flat out refused. She goes to daycare, I ring to check on her and the response is she's fine we gave her a bottle and she drank it and after that she went to sleep. Easy peasy. I'm so jealous of them lol.

As a babies teacher I feel it helps most for babies to be used to sleeping in a cot and when they have a special sleeping item. As noisy as daycare often is the children get used to it very quickly and often sleep really well. We also play relaxing music to keep the noise consistent. The babies also have the same teachers who feed them, change their nappy and put them to bed...babies learn this routine and get to know their teachers and quickly become comfortable with this.

My nearly 3 year old twins nap well at daycare and don't nap at home!!

My girls are allowed one sleep item from home eg toy, cuddly, blanket. They are confident, and nurturing teachers, so they try to have one teacher spend time time with my little ones (especially routine times as they can be quite scary/different for new children). Not pass them around. I worked in early childhood for 10 years and have not come across one child who cries all day.

My wee girl is 13 months and only at daycare two days a week and doesn't sleep well there (but is a very good sleeper at home). Sometimes I wonder if she just wants to get up and play and make the most of her time there. Her teachers now sit with her and rub her back until she falls asleep (usually only 5-10min now) and go back in when she’s ending the first sleep cycle to help her through to the next sleep cycle.

Our 1 year old sleeps fairly well at daycare, some days better than others. Our daycare has some fairy lights and soft lullabies in the cot room seems to settle the babies.

I've learnt that you have to be a bit flexible with daycare sleeps. Although we have a routine at home, I know they can't follow it exactly particularly when she's still in a cot at home and on a mat at daycare. We just try and keep the sleep cues as consistent as possible - sleeping bag and bunny for cuddles at home and daycare, with lullabies playing.

My daughter sleeps more at daycare than at home! Although, she will NOT sleep in the cot there so she sleeps in the pram instead. And god I don’t care – at least she has a decent 2 hour sleep instead of none! She is 11months old, breastfed (takes a bottle as well) and usually feeds to sleep so I’m pretty proud she sleeps so well for them!

I have a 13 1/2 month old boy, who has been at full time daycare for the last month. He does not sleep as long as he does at home, but that was to be expected. Our daycare is very accommodating and does what we do at home by putting him in his sleeping bag, with the safe t sleep and giving him his dummy. They also have some music playing. I think you have to expect that they will most likely not sleep like they do at home, but will have enough to get through the day, and some days will be better than others. Our boy also makes up for it on the weekend too, and once they adjust to the noises and changes you will see all the fun they have there during the day.

My 2yr old was a struggle to put to nap in the day. One week at daycare and he sleeps for 2hrs! Dammit feels like I'm paying for him to sleep.

My girl has been at daycare for 4 months (since 6 months) and screams her lungs out whenever the teachers try to put her into her cot or the sleep room or down anywhere for her sleep. They still hold her when she sleeps. She isn’t like that at home so I have no idea how to help them. The girls there are really good about it though and have said they will just take their time. Lol

My oldest started at daycare at 5 months and never really slept there. We tried everything and his teachers were fantastic but it just didn't work.. gave up worrying about it and just dealt with a tired baby. Youngest started at 4 months and naps as she would at home. Some kids are just too busy to nap there!

My 20 month old goes to day care one day a week. He has only recently started there and has slept on the two occasions he has been there. I put his favourite blanket in his bag and he sleeps with that.

I was worried my little man wasn't going to sleep when he first started but napped from day one. He's now dropped his naps at home but still has a nap at daycare! (Just there once a week)

My little girl has refused to sleep at daycare from the very start. Luckily I work part time so when I pick her up she comes straight home to sleep. That seems to work well for her.

My daughter did fine, hour to hour and a half, but would do 2 hours at home. I just figure she wants to get up and play. Works ok. She's knackered when she gets home so sleeps well over night.

My 13m old adapted so quickly!! At home is a light sleeper and wakes at drop of a hat and needs white noise. At daycare just made sure he still had his sleeping bag and bunny and after a week was sleeping so long in daycare that had to ask them to wake him lol. Is in a quiet room with about 10 other babies. They leave his sleep sack off half the time too because hot and still sleeps for hours. He figured out the rules pretty quick.

It was tricky at first as she started at 9mth and was still having 3 sleeps. I used to pick her up mid afternoon (I work short days) to take her for a walk and third nap in the stroller. But at daycare she had her sleep sack and cuski. She struggled a little with the noise at first I think but after a few months and once she was down to one sleep, she often slept longer there than at home. We also try to keep daycare and home similar timing. Now at nearly 2 her nap lengths vary from 45min (eek) to 2hrs (only occasionally), but they do that at both home and daycare.

I was soooo worried about this as my boy’s not a great napper but it's gone better than I could have hoped. It's maybe taking up to 15mins to get him to sleep but they're so good with him often it's 5. He has a sleep sack like at home and they read stories, play music etc.

Having worked in childcare, stability is important when children first start, so regarding sleep, see if it's possible for the same teacher/carer to settle them to sleep for a period of time until they feel comfortable in their new sleep surroundings. A comfort blanket or toy helps too.

Our 14 month old has his own ipod and mini speaker to listen to his nap music. It’s on low volume. We use this at home too. Daycare find he goes to sleep quicker wrapped from waist down. I don’t have the same success but mostly he goes in to his cot quietly and settles himself. We get 1 good nap a day at home. Daycare sometimes gets two depending on how he has slept the night before. I am waiting for him to change any minute!

Our 14mth old wasn't sleeping at nanny care so we asked if she would use a Tula and it has worked like a charm. Daycare seem to get her to sleep but not sure how. I think they sing and pat her bottom.

We found daycare staff to be some of the least judgemental professionals on the planet! Your child uses a dummy? No problem! Sleeps on a tri pillow? Bring one in! We have really appreciated their support and commitment to finding what works best for our child in every aspect of his life. We do find that our little man seems to run a bit of a different schedule there re: sleep compared to what he seems to need at home. But he copes fine with that so we just roll with it. Most people seem to say their children sleep less/differently at daycare which makes sense as they are sleeping in a different place. We have totally benefited from having a bunch of highly experienced professionals who are passionate about that age group and who we can ask for tips - some of their handy hints about sleep and other aspects have been invaluable!

Sleeping bag! Trying to keep to similar routine to go to bed, which ours does & we had an extra cuddly for the first few weeks until she was sleeping just as well as at home. The staff know lots of tricks & tips - I've learnt from them!

Patience, dummy and a cuski. Our daycare is great, son has been going for last five months. First month was the hardest and a bit all over the place but now he sleeps a solid 2-2.5 hours at lunch. They helped him settle and rocked to sleep but now they say he goes down and knows it's sleep time. Maybe helps that all his little friends have the same sleep time so he's not missing out on play!


My daughter has her sleep sac from home and cuski which helps too I think.

I work in a childcare centre. We make sure the sleep space is calm and peaceful, we have lavender oil, calm relaxing music, salt rock lamp for a gentle glow in the room and really consistent practices eg same teacher and follow parents’ routines.

If he found it hard to sleep we took in his sleeping bag. Love to dream one. Once he got used to the environment we took the bag away to just use it at night so when he went into the bag at night he knew it was for his big sleep. But really routine routine routine especially for their first year.

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