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Starting Nursery or Preschool: Dealing with Sleep Regressions

Dealing with Sleep Regressions


September and October mark the beginning of nursery and preschool for many children, which can be a source of concern for parents, especially if their little ones have never attended these environments or have experienced a long summer break.

Handling Separation Anxiety:

One of the most common challenges during this period is separation anxiety, which can manifest as bursts of unease during drop-offs and before bedtime. After spending the summer together, it’s understandable that these moments of anxiety may occur at the start of the school year. The best way to address this is by showing empathy towards your children while ensuring their safety and comfort. Whether you’re dealing with a swift transition (sometimes referred to as the “Swedish transition,” characterized by three days of initial support) or a gradual one, your calmness during the process is crucial.

Avoid being overly anxious when your child cries or becomes restless during separation. Don’t bid farewell with overwhelming sorrow, hugging and looking at them compassionately, as this can convey insecurity about the place you’re leaving them. Instead, aim to be empathetic. Let them know that you understand how sad they feel, and that you experience the same sadness. Emphasize that nursery or preschool is a safe place, intentionally chosen to make them feel comfortable, and reassure them that you’ll be back to pick them up soon. This reassurance is vital for addressing separation anxiety.

Establishing Routines and Planning:

Another important aspect is creating a simple and reassuring morning routine. The chaos of last-minute preparations is not functional, so try to wake up at least 15 minutes earlier. Preparing breakfast the night before can help save time. Instead of saying, “Tomorrow, you’re going to nursery,” talk to your child about the present moment, saying, “We’re going to nursery together, where you’ll play with many friends.”

During the journey, narrate what’s going to happen as if it were a story. Knowing what to expect step by step can help calm the child. “We enter the nursery, put away the stroller, greet the caretaker with a warm ‘hello,’ then head to the lockers. We take off your shoes, put them away, and share a hug and a big kiss. At this point, Teacher Federica arrives, and you go with her. When you’re with her, you enjoy a delicious snack, play with your new friends, and later have lunch. After finishing lunch, you get ready for naptime, and when you wake up, I’ll be there waiting for you!” Repeatedly explain what will happen before, during, and after nursery to alleviate separation anxiety.

Managing Schedules and Naptimes:

Nurseries and preschools follow schedules, meals, and naptimes that may not perfectly align with your child’s routines. Adaptation is key. It may take some time, but children will gradually adjust to these schedules during the week. During the weekend, you can revert to schedules that better suit your child’s needs.

Understand that, in most cases, you won’t be able to dictate specific schedules for your children, so ask when they wake up in the morning and plan their awake windows accordingly. In most nurseries, specific schedules for children can’t be imposed, so you’ll need to adapt to the facility’s proposed schedules. Typically, there’s a nap of about 30 minutes around 10:00 to 10:30 and a longer nap around 1:00. When all children transition to a single nap, it will be scheduled around 1:00.

Starting at 13 months, the nursery will suggest only one nap for children, even though some of them may still need two naps. Therefore, by the end of the day, they may be very tired as early as 7:00 in the evening. This is normal as they need to adjust to new rhythms, noises, and emotions. In such cases, it’s advisable to put them to bed as early as possible. Always ask the educators about the time they woke up and calculate their awake window. In the early months of nursery, you might need to put them to bed early, around 6:30 or 7:00, to prevent sleep regression. During the weekend, observe your child, and if they still need two naps, accommodate them!

Don’t hesitate to ask the educators to shorten the nap if it becomes too long (after 18 months, never exceed 1 hour and 30 minutes) or to put your little one to bed earlier or later to align with the home schedule.

Avoiding the Third Nap and Considering Exceptions:

After the seventh month, a third nap is not necessary. Allow your child to take a short nap only if they didn’t get any sleep at the nursery, or if it’s strictly required to accommodate late bedtime due to parents’ work schedules.

On Thursdays and Fridays, children may come home very tired, having accumulated fatigue throughout the week. Therefore, it’s advisable to avoid planning evening outings on these days. Sunday is a great choice if you want to dine out.

Sleeping Methods:

Keep in mind that falling asleep at the nursery won’t be entirely independent, as peer imitation comes into play. Even if the place is not dark and quiet, it’s suitable. The initial weeks may be a bit challenging, but children will learn to sleep in this environment over time. You can introduce a transitional object, like a stuffed animal, but ensure it’s safe for your child’s sleep.

If you don’t have a transitional object yet, you can introduce one starting at 13 months. However, be cautious in choosing an object that doesn’t pose SIDS risks and won’t cause awakenings. It can be a plush toy, not a security blanket (doudou). It’s better to have two, one for home and one for nursery. They can be similar, but they don’t need to be identical. The transitional object shouldn’t be too small. However, if your children don’t request it, there’s no need to provide one; it’s not a necessity.

Dealing with Evening Fatigue:

In class, your children will experience new emotions and activities and share spaces that are often very noisy with other children. It’s highly likely that your children will come home very tired. Don’t hesitate to advance bedtime by 30-45 minutes compared to the usual time.

The nursery can be tiring on sensory, cognitive, and emotional levels. Every child has some vulnerability related to sleep, and when intense emotions come into play, sleep is affected differently. Some may struggle to fall asleep, others may fall asleep easily but have frequent awakenings during the night, while others may wake up early in the morning.

If you’re aware of these dynamics, know that the start of nursery may lead to difficulties in falling asleep. It’s all normal! So, if there are 5 minutes of crying at bedtime to release the day’s stress, wait a bit before intervening, and the next day, adjust bedtime earlier. Don’t interpret this outburst with your fears; it’s simply fatigue. It will get better, adapt gradually to the nursery, and everything will fall into place.

In summary, transitioning to nursery or preschool takes time and adaptation. With patience, understanding, and a solid routine, your child will gradually acclimate to this new phase, and sleep will return to being peaceful and restorative. #ChildSleep #PreschoolTransition #AttentiveParents

Your Sleep Consultants NAP,

Cristina & Meriame