Children are unique little beings. Some are more sensitive than others, some are more angry or belligerent than others. All have feelings, personalities and preferences that are their very own. When placed in an institutional setting such as childcare, some children react negatively to structure, institutional food and nap time. Yet study after study has proven that children need structure in their lives, and need to have boundaries for their own safety and personal sense of security.
When your child is a morning lark, they greet the dawning of each day with joy and celebration. They may awaken at the crack of dawn, forge through the morning, participate in morning circle time and outdoor play, enjoy their lunch and then crash in the early afternoon, having depleted their stock of energy. Children such as these may fare well with structured nap times. In fact, they may well prefer to sleep longer than the designated time! Child care settings that “turn on the lights” at 2 pm are doing these children a disfavor.
If your child is a night owl, they’re almost impossible to get into bed at night. There are endless calls for water, trips to the bathroom, stories. They may sneak out of bed to watch television, or may read to the early morning hours. You may wake up a 2 am and find them on the floor, playing with their toys! Their body clock finally lets them fall into bed in the wee hours of the morning, and heaven help the parent who has to try awaken them in the morning, drag them out of the door, protesting and hollering, to their child care facility. They enter with a scowl, hide in a corner, gradually emerging as the day wears on toward the afternoon. Morning circle may be a nightmare, since their body clock is still crying out for sleep. If you are lucky, they fully awaken at lunch time, just in time for nap time! If centers insist upon nap for all the children, these may be the ones fidgeting on their cots, jumping from cot to cot waking the other children, arguing with the teacher and throwing furniture about.
Do sleep cycles affect your child in child care settings? You bet!
If your child is a morning lark, getting them to bed at a reasonable hour won’t be a concern. They may fall asleep watching a television show, or in the car after going out for dinner. You carry them to bed and they may remain there until early morning – 6 am, if you are lucky. If your child is a night owl, parents have to gradually, in 15 minute increments, attempt to get their children to go to bed a bit earlier. With persistence, most children will gradually capitulate if the change is done gradually, without fanfare.
We have daylight until very late in summer. When a child is young, they don’t understand that it’s bed time, even though it’s still light outside! Parents have to be firm, windows should have room-darkening shades, and a night-time routine has to be established in order for children to realize that they don’t have the option of staying up as late as they like.
Child care settings should have a room set aside for children who simply no longer nap. Not all children need to be re-charged, especially if they had enough sleep the night before. Children should certainly all be given the option of napping, at least until the age of 5. But if a child is a “notorious” non-napper, is it worth the argument every day? Teachers would answer with a resounding “No!”
Nap time should be peaceful. Teachers supervise the children while preparing their lesson plans, art projects and paperwork. This is pretty much impossible with children in the room who won’t settle down. Giving them quiet activities is fine, until the other children realize that this is a “reward” at nap time – then it’s difficult to get anyone to stay on their cots at quiet time!
Talk to the teacher about your child. Discuss their need for nap, their behavior during the day. Keep a journal of your child’s behavior so you can see how their sleep cycles may affect their performance. If you do this during preschool, it will make it ever so much easier in Elementary school! This isn’t commonly addressed in child care facilities, and I have never understood why not. Any issue that concerns a child is a “behavioral” issue, whether it’s acting out, being overly aggressive, not participating, falling asleep in the middle of lunch, or jumping from cot to cot during nap time.
As a “morning lark” who is married to a “night owl,” I can tell you, adjustments can be made to co-exist in harmony! It just takes a bit of work and cooperation. The same should be said for children in child care settings.