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Caring for the Little Ones - Sleep Issues in Infant and Toddler Programs

By Karen Miller

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Where infants sleep is another issue. While most infants will sleep in a crib, a few people reported variations. One child would only sleep in an air chair. Another infant would not sleep in a crib room, but would crawl over to a crib mattress they had put out at the side of the play area and would sleep fine on that. Some needed to be on a mat on the floor and have a caregiver lie down with them until they fell asleep. Nobody reported having children sleep in car seats or swings, (which I often see), and all agreed that this would not be good for them.

As a footnote, in group care children should only be in their cribs when they are asleep or falling asleep. Therefore, there is no need for crib toys to amuse children in their cribs. When they wake up, they should be taken out of their cribs immediately.


Toddlers are in the time of transition going from two, or even several naps a day, to one nap after lunch time. Since they are mobile, active, and noisy, it's much more difficult to have several children asleep while others are awake and playing in the same room. One program solved this problem by having a separate sleep room for toddlers so they can continue following their own body rhythms. More programs work toward having everyone sleep at the same time. Most toddler programs have an early lunch at 11:00 or 11:30 because children are ready to flop by then.

There were still reports of toddlers who could not go to sleep by themselves, so caregivers would lie down with them on a mat to help them slip off to slumber. (IfI were that caregiver, I know I would fall asleep before the child did!) Toddlers are also comforted by transitional objects such as special blankets and stuffed animals. Back rubs help, and don't forget the lullabies.

What helps most is planning for a very active morning with lots of outside time, and then a good, calming routine that gets progressively more quiet as the lunch time progresses and naptime approaches. Yawn a lot. It's catching. Anticipate naptime pleasantly. "Ah . . . soon we'll be able to stretch out with our blankets and go to sleep. It will feel soooooo good!" Remember that infants and toddlers are comforted by consistency in the daily routine. It gives them a feeling of security and safety.

Sleep Is Important

Pat Moffett, who gives workshops on brain development, reminds us that the brain requires a period of deep, uninterrupted physiological rest in order to download all the rich input of the day. Over-tired children may act hyperactive and adults may think they aren't tired. Sleep deprivation can lead to learning difficulties.

Finally, Erma Le McMin tells us, "I have never learned in my 40 years of experience, how to be in control of making a child go to sleep! When someone learns how to do that, I will be interested!" She reminds us that each child is unique. Some require much less rest than others. But, we can do what we know how to do in providing children with consistent routines, and responsive, gentle caregivers to allow them to settle themselves and drift off to sleep when they need to.

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