Wednesday March 7, 2012
CHILDWISE By RUTH LIEW
While naptime is good for kids, it shouldn’t be forced upon them. THERE are a lot of factors affecting a child’s sleeping pattern. It’s perfectly fine if they don’t want to sleep,” Nikki Tai, a childcare centre supervisor and kindergarten principal of eight years, explained. We were having a discussion on getting children to take their nap at the childcare centre. Recently, there was a case where children of different ages were swaddled and even had their mouths taped at a childcare centre. Swaddling babies is a common traditional practice among many families. But more and more people are becoming aware that children should be allowed to move freely and self-soothe. I asked Nikki what her care-providers would do if children did not immediately fall asleep during naptime at her centre. She cheerfully replied: “Just let them lie down, roll over, look around (while lying down), stare blankly at their friends who are asleep, daydream or talk to themselves. In fact, they may just relax, lying down, doing nothing. They will sleep when they want to. We only encourage but do not force them to sleep.” Flexi-approach: Do not insist that children should all fall asleep at a certain time and wake up together, or have the same hours of sleep. I have been in the field of early childhood care and education for over 25 years. I have heard of many stories where children in nurseries and home-based centres were forced to take naps during the day. Some of them were threatened with the cane while others were reportedly fed cough mixture to make them drowsy. Many of the incidents went unnoticed because there was just no concrete evidence to such abuses. Parents were either too busy to notice the changes in their children’s behaviour or they were unaware that those practices were considered child abuse. Then there were centres which did not allow parents to carry out spot checks on them. Many parents feel that babies in the early months sleep better and cry less when they are swaddled as the infants feel more secure and comforted. For older babies, who are already turning and moving about, swaddling is definitely not suitable. It can restrict circulation and cause overheating, especially in our climate. A suitable arrangement for older babies and young children who nap at childcare centres is having their individual child-size mattress and bedding in a well-ventilated room. Naptime is one of the daily routines at these centres. Most of them will conduct activities that involve children physically and mentally just before naptime. In other words, children who have had a full programme at the childcare centre would be tired in the later part of the day. For many, the usual practice is to make the children nap after lunch and bath time. Also sharing her views was another childcare centre operator. She said: “The children at my centre are always willing to take their nap. They get very tired by naptime as they have spent the whole morning playing and learning.” She added that children who refused to nap were encouraged to engage in non-vigorous activities in another room. Adult supervision during naptime is imperative. Many young children have bedtime fears, which are compounded by their apprehension about having a shuteye in a place which is not their home. The adults can help children to wind down by serenading them softly or telling them an interesting story. This is reassuring to the weary little ones. The following are some tips offered by childcare providers on how to have a stress-free nap routine for children of various ages: > Plan a complete programme with a balanced amount of physical activities in the morning. Shortly before naptime, the activities should be quieter to help children wind down. Children usually find the transition from bath time to naptime most acceptable. > Make naptime an event children look forward to, by holding a special read-aloud or music appreciation session for them while they are resting on their backs. > Be flexible with the naptime routine. Do not insist that children should all fall asleep at a certain time and wake up together. Allow for differences. Children of various ages do not need to have the same hours of sleep. As toddlers get tired, they become cranky, over-excited or whiny. This is when a childcare provider needs to schedule a nap. This is not always possible but she should be flexible. > Discuss the naptime routine with parents. With infants and toddlers, parents and childcare providers should jointly decide the best time for the little ones to nap and the number of naps the children need in a day at home and at the centre. As for older children, naptime should be optional. > Children will often protest about naptime. The childcare provider can gently – but firmly – tell the child that it is time for a nap, before affectionately calming the child. Transitional objects such as comforters, blankies and pacifiers are allowed during naptime. For many children, these objects not only help them to sleep but are a solution to a hassle-free naptime. Ruth Liew is a child developmentalist, Montessori trainer and examiner. A mother of two teenage daughters, she is committed to supporting children’s rights.