How to Get Your 1-Year-Old to Nap Like a Pro at Daycare
The most common age for kids to start daycare is 12 months. By this age most kids have stronger immune systems to fight all the new germs, and they’ve had a significant time to establish a secure bond with their parents, caregivers, and siblings.
There are a lot of developmental changes happening at one year that can make starting daycare easy, and some that can make the transition difficult. Many kids around 1 year have an established sleep routine (both naps and nighttime), and most are sleeping through the night. But an unfamiliar environment with new people can make transitioning to a good daytime nap at daycare hard or even impossible for some kids.
Any daytime sleep disruption can affect nighttime, and no one likes a sleep regression. We asked pediatric sleep expert Shannon Parker, about the best ways to help your 1-year-old nap well at daycare right from the start.
Help Them Sleep Independently
If your child isn’t accustomed to falling asleep independently at home, they are inherently going to have a very hard time when they are asked to do it at daycare. Sleeping independently means they can fall asleep without the aid of being held, nursing or taking a bottle, or motion like rocking or swinging.
Here are a few key ways to increase their independence:
Ween them from nursing or bottle-feeding to sleep. This is a big crutch that is hard to break, especially if you are nursing. While there are lots of routines you can ask daycare to help continue for a smooth transition, feeding to sleep is probably not one of them.
Eliminate motion. Many babies love to be rocked to sleep, whether it’s from the movement of a rocking chair or the motion of a car. If your kid will only fall asleep in these scenarios, they may not adapt to daycare naps as quickly.
Let other trusted adults put them down for a nap or bedtime (aunts, uncles, grandparents, babysitters). They will need to be comfortable with various caregivers at daycare, give them the practice first at home.
Keep in mind that if you are helping your child through any of these sleep transitions, it’s best to do it before they start daycare.
Get on Daycare's Schedule Before You Start
A 12-month-old classroom will have a much more regular schedule for snacks and naps. One-year olds are much more active, they are developing the skill of walking and they are exploring their environment more. They are also on a more regular and predictable schedule than infants.
"When your 12-month year old starts daycare, they’re going to have to follow what the other 12-month-olds are doing,” says Shannon. “This is where the flexibility in their schedule they had in their previous infant stage starts to shift to accommodate daycare. Everyone eats together and everyone naps together. Getting your child on the daycare’s schedule before starting will make the transition much smoother.” Ask the teachers for an estimate of the schedule—it will largely depend on the kids in that room, but it will give you a general sense of what to expect.
There’s no need to match the schedule to the minute, but you want to help your child be able to flow with a less flexible schedule. The last thing anyone wants is for your child to be overly hungry or overly tired at all the wrong moments. For example, if the room usually naps around 11:30 you’ll want your child to be able to nap within a half hour of that at home.
If your daycare can’t give you a definitive schedule, base your home schedule on age-appropriate wake windows. A wake window is the time from when the child wakes up to the next time they fall asleep. For most one-year-olds their wake windows should be anywhere from 4.5-6 hours if doing one nap a day (4-5 hours if on two nap schedule).
Shannon says, “Even after your child has been at daycare for a while, it’s still always great to check in with your daycare’s schedule. All kids can benefit from matching your evening or your weekends to the schedule at daycare.”
Get Down to One Nap
With a more set schedule comes less flexibility around naps. Many daycare rooms with one-year-olds will only have them taking one nap.
The transition down to one nap can be a big one. It may be more successful to help your child with the transition at home.
Shannon says, “If you know that your child is getting close to being ready to drop down to one nap. Block off a weekend to devote to the transition. You can stretch their wake windows by 15 minutes each day or sometimes even 30 minutes.”
Even if your child is already in daycare, when they move up to a room where nap time is more scheduled, it might be helpful to make the transition to one nap at home.
Send Some Comforts from Home
Routine is everything for many kids at this age. When you give a toddler a routine, they will understand what to expect and what comes next. A sleep routine will help them feel safe and comfortable.
A routine doesn't have to be elaborate, it can mean putting on a sleep sack before nap. Giving them something to nap with from home can make their daycare environment feel more comfortable. This might take the form of a loved stuffed animal or a sleep sack. Be sure to buy two so that they are truly the same, and so you don’t run into an issue when you accidentally leave it at daycare.
“I’ve seen kids bring their mom or dads bandana or t-shirt to cuddle with,” says Shannon. “If they can be reminded and comforted by an item that’s yours (that might also smell a bit like you) it might help their transition.”
Communicate Your Routine to Daycare
This is tricky because there are some routines your daycare teachers can absolutely follow, and some that might be a bit too involved. If you know your child will respond well to a specific word, phrase, or type of physical touch, tell the teachers.
Conversely if you don’t do any back rubs or head pats before your child falls asleep, and the teachers attempt to do this thinking it will be helpful, your kid might not know how to respond. A back rub might signify to them that it’s time to play.
Give the daycare teachers all the information you can that might help them get to know your child’s sleep routines. This will empower them to best sooth your child when they need to get some good rest.
If you are looking for help transitioning your toddler or infant to daycare and you’re concerned about sleep, Shannon Parker is an experience sleep consultant, kids yoga teacher, toddler mama, and Southern Maine native. Her sleep plans aid caregivers in their goals to meet sleep needs with less stress through knowledge, confidence, + calming practices. Her methods and techniques are rooted in science and experience, but grounded in practicality. She also has mini-mindfulness exercises to help you navigate the stress surrounding making changes.