There are parents who are passionate about lots of things. I run into parents who are really sticklers about no television for their kids. Others who are passionate about breast feeding and many who care deeply about foods/pesticides/organic/non GMOs for their children. All of these parents are crusaders – mothers and fathers who are fighting for what they believe is best for their children and other children as well. And I respect them greatly even if our opinions differ. Well – my “issue” is sleep. (No surprise, as I am a sleep consultant.) And I feel very passionately about it – so passionate that I feel angry.
Why is it that sleep is not at the forefront of every parent’s mind? Why don’t teachers know about the value of a rested mind and how lack of sleep greatly affects the way children learn and behave (often getting misdiagnosed as having ADHD when they are, in fact, overtired)? Even more maddening is why pediatricians, doctors whose job is to care for infants and children and who are the teachers of parents do not get educated about sleep. We have had a number of pediatricians as clients and they have been the first to admit that they had one or two lectures only about sleep and that they often feel at a loss when talking to parents about sleep. Often, doctors rely on personal experience with sleep and more likely than not, it was not a successful experience!
But MOST upsetting to me is my experience with childcare providers who are not making sleep a priority. Daycare centers and preschools are not making an effort to help their children sleep, and this is a huge issue. I’m on a crusade. I want childcare providers to feel as passionately about healthy sleep for babies and young children as they do about healthy foods, BPA in plastic, water safety, and vaccines. We, as Americans – especially here on the East Coast, are behind the times. Ten years from now, new mothers will look back and think of this time as the “dark ages” – they will feel so badly for our children –that they weren’t getting what they needed to grow and thrive.
You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve spent the last month arguing with my 1-year-old’s daycare center. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this angry and I have to say that my “momma bear” instincts are alive and firing rapidly as I sit here and write to you. I am a full-time working mother of two girls and my husband and I made the choice to send our girls to daycare because we have to and because we think it’s a healthy choice for them when it’s the right fit. So, we did a lot of research and visited a lot of schools here in our community. We chose a school after speaking with the director at length about the importance of our daughter’s sleep and our expectations.
When I arrived at our “orientation” for daycare, I was surprised to learn that NONE of the other 12-month-olds were still napping twice a day. Many of the mothers told me that their children napped in the car or stroller for about an hour a day. I listened politely and smiled. I don’t make judgments about what others do. If it’s working, that’s wonderful. I knew with 100% confidence, however, that my little one was a WRECK when she didn’t get 4 hours of sleep during the day and about 12-13 hours at night. We were on a perfect schedule and we had a happy and healthy one-year-old.
Well, I spoke to the teacher and the school director and explained the basic sleep needs of children 12 months to 18 months. The director actually said to me, “Well, this isn’t a SCIENCE, so you just have to wait and see how it goes….” I kindly smiled and told her that sleep is, very definitely a science! I suggested that children would not be able to sleep well if there were no shades on the windows, if music was playing in the room and if the children were over-tired.
I was pretty upset when I was told that my child was not napping at all and it was implied that this was because I was allowing her to sleep in the morning. They told me I should let her get tired enough to nap in the afternoon with the other children. Needless to say, I pulled my daughter out of that program and have her enrolled in a new program.
Despite the openness of the new teachers and director and the partnership I feel I have with them, I still keep my daughter home for a quick morning nap before I bring her to school (20 minutes late) so that she can get the rest she needs. She is only napping for an hour at school and I rush her home, feed her a quick dinner, wash her quickly in the tub and get her in bed by 5:30 in an effort to help her make up some of her missed rest. And, now, our formerly perfect sleeper is sometimes waking at night and wakes much earlier in the morning.
It breaks my heart, but it’s the best I can do. And I know she’ll be ok. We can only do our best – and I can’t be angry at myself or stay awake feeling guilty about things I can’t control right now. On the weekends, we have created a family expectation that we have to put our daughter’s sleep above everything else right now. So, we don’t go out much and friends come here for dinner. It’s just temporary and it’s worth it.
My Wish List for all daycare centers in the country:
Only take infants/young toddlers if you have the space and equipment to help them sleep
pack n’ plays
white noise machines
room darkening shades
Follow basic sleep guidelines for children and their sleep needs
Allow for a separate sleep room so that children who are on different sleep schedules will not disturb those with greater sleep needs
Train care-givers on basic sleep science and strategies
Provide educational seminars for parents of “students” to learn more about sleep
Ok – Rant over….for now!