On a recent episode of Supernanny there was a child screaming and crying about going down for their nap. I was a little shocked because even though it’s a huge stereotype so I know it happens a lot, the toddlers and preschoolers I’ve cared for don’t really act that way. It breaks my heart when children are upset and I can’t imagine having to deal with naptime being a stressful and upsetting time for us every day. Now… I have been told I have some kind of magic when it comes to getting those 1-4 year olds to sleep well, but I think there are some things that contribute to making it an easy process. Feel free to take on these tips if there’s anything in here that you haven’t already tried!
One factor is routine – I believe it’s so beneficial to have routines and rhythms in our days. This doesn’t mean (to me) that the child has to nap at the exact same time every day, or read the exact same book/number of books before their nap. It means that there is a predictability to the things that happen during the day and during certain transitions. As the morning draws on, we discuss what’s coming up – lunch and nap. There might be some protest to the idea (a bit of protesting is expected and intuitive for children of this age in general!) but I don’t tend to engage much in that. Generally when the time comes, and we move steadily at the child’s pace through the comforting consistency of a routine (such as nappy/toilet, choosing a story, reading a story, a cuddle, a song, a goodnight)… they settle into their beds for their nap.
Another factor is activity – they’ll sleep better if they’re the right amount of tired! I take children out and about in the mornings whenever possible. This might include playing at the playground, taking a walk, meeting up with a friend, or an organised class or activity. Even taking a trip to the supermarket or running errands can be the morning’s agenda. Not only do these things get our bodies moving, they involve the child’s mind and senses being stimulated. The child is engaging socially, making choices about their actions, expressing themselves verbally, learning to control some of their impulses, and processing their environment. These things can be tiring for a young child, so I’m always conscious of managing their activities with the goal of providing enriching experiences that use up just the right amount of energy.
In order to balance the energy used, we need to make sure we’re allowing the child to get energy from nutritious foods and appropriate rest. A balanced diet that includes vitamins and nutrients, including proteins and healthy fats to sustain energy from carbohydrates is important. Many children love processed snacks and fruits, but making sure they have a good balance of other foods they enjoy is important for many reasons – including good sleep. When toddlers and preschoolers are having one nap a day, I ensure they eat an early lunch before their nap so that they are satisfied and ready to rest. Allowing children to sleep and rest before they become overtired is also something I’ve seen to be so important. This means monitoring their energy levels, building in opportunities for quiet time, and catching the appropriate nap window.
Honestly I think a lot of it is also in the attitude – consistency and a positive expectation that they will sleep (or rest). Naptime for me, with the children I care for, is a wonderful time of connection and rest. I also make sure that if I need to wake them from their naps I do it in a respectful and gentle way, allowing them to take their time to get out of bed whenever possible. Sometimes that means needing to wake a preschooler a little earlier so they have time to wake slowly in order to get ready to collect their sibling from school. (Luckily the children I’m thinking of in these cases were also usually keen to get into bed early, asking for their nap when they were tired. They really loved to sleep!) Sometimes it means sitting in the room, after waking a toddler with some quiet words and a rub of their back, waiting for them to be ready for me to lift them out of their cot. All of these factors are things I do in order to consciously work towards creating positive sleep habits with young children during the day. I’m not sure if these factors are where the magic lies, but hopefully they’re sensible things to put effort into!