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Toddler Sleep and Daycare

Part two in a three-part series about sleep needs and daycare.

Congratulations, your family has survived the first year of daycare! Or maybe you were one of the lucky ones who got to stay home with their little one for the first 12 months and now he or she is heading off to daycare for the very first time. Either way, the transition from the infant room to the toddler room at most daycare's can result in a new set of challenges for most kids because there is often a drastic change in their sleep schedule.

Making sure your child is on a healthy, age appropriate sleep schedule can help prevent the headache of dealing with an overtired child at nap and bed times. Aside from sleep associations, the most common challenge facing the families I work with is an overtired child. An overtired child can have a tough time falling asleep, and staying asleep.

Because much of a child’s daily and weekly sleep takes place at daycare, below are my tips for fighting sleep challenges in the daycare’s toddler room:

  • Transitioning to one nap, too soon: The number one sleep problem in the daycare’s toddler room is the transition from two naps a day to just one taking place too soon. Children should take two naps a day from age 9-months to 18-months. My son had to transition to one nap at 12-months-old because that was his daycare’s schedule. This could have been disastrous for his sleep. If your child’s daycare makes the 2-1 nap transition too soon, here are some ways to address it:

  • See if they can make an exception – ask the provider, or even the teacher, if accommodations can be made for your child to take two naps per day, or if he gets tired, if there is a quiet place for him to lay down?

  • Begin the transition a month earlier at home to ease into the 2-1 naps. This is the option we used with my son. Our sleep consultant helped us make the transition on the weekends before he had to make the transition at school, and it made the change go a lot smoother.

  • Catch-up on missed sleep where you can. Earlier bedtime and two naps on the weekend will help prevent your child from becoming overtired and racking up a sleep debt, which can cause other issues down the road like bedtime battles and night waking’s.

  • Transitional object: Not only is your child going to experience a new sleep environment, but he or she is also experiencing a new social environment, which can impact how well naps go. Before your child moves up to the next classroom, help them pick out a stuffed animal or blanket they can take with them to school for naps. Explain to them that this object will be experiencing the unfamiliar environment for the first time as well. This object can make a significant difference in your child’s feelings of social acceptance and help them have something familiar during naptime.

  • Crib to cot: When infants transition to the toddler room, sleep goes from a crib to a cot which means more freedom of movement. As a result, daycare workers often become more involved in your child’s sleep by trying to get them to stay on the cot. What was once an independent sleeper might now want mom or dad to be a part of the bedtime routine at home because he or she is used to having someone present during naps at school.

  • Don’t panic, give your toddler time to adjust to sleeping on a new surface.

  • Ask the daycare provider if your toddler can sleep in a sleep sack to keep them stationary and require less involvement from the daycare worker.

TIP: Just because your toddler has transitioned to a cot at school doesn’t mean it is time for a big kid bed at home. Toddlers should be left in their crib until they are at least three-years-old!

If your toddler is on a healthy, consistent daily sleep schedule, the transition to the toddler room should be a blip on their sleep radar. During the transition, an early bedtime is helpful to make sure he or she is getting the restorative sleep they need.

If your family is struggling to get on a healthy, consistent sleep schedule, it is not too late! I have experience helping families whose little ones are transitioning to daycare for the first time, or in the process of transitioning to a toddler room. Feel free to reach out to me with questions about a daycare sleep transition.

Sending your child to daycare doesn’t have to mean the destruction of healthy sleep!

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