What Do I Do For My Toddler Who Won’t Sleep at Daycare?

Have you experienced your toddler falling asleep in the car on your way home from daycare because they failed to take their nap during the day?

Trying to get your child to sleep at daycare can be a big challenge…especially when you aren’t there. It can be worrisome to have your child not taking naps during the day because it can often mean that they will be cranky for the rest of the day.

How to Get your Child to Sleep at Daycare

So, how do you get your child to sleep at daycare? Babies and toddlers do best with routine and consistency. To get them to sleep at daycare they need to have the same (or most similar)environment, consistency, and routine they could possibly have. Your child is used to sleeping at home in their bed or crib with you around. It may not seem to make a difference to you where your child sleeps, so long as it’s comfortable and they actually sleep. But, children and babies are very sensitive to changes in their environment. That’s why they don’t always sleep as well as you would like them to in unfamiliar places.

There are a few things that you can do that may help your child sleep a little better at daycare. Some of these ideas require you to do some extra things you might not do in the first place, but many parents have used them and have had success. Every child is different and so has different needs and comforts. Whatever needs they have, hopefully this information will ease your frustration and worry for your child’s well-being at daycare.


When it comes to the environment your baby/toddler is accustomed to, everything from what things smell like, to where they sleep will have an effect on their ability to sleep at daycare. I’ve found that anything familiar to them will help them to feel more at ease. Sometimes they can’t sleep because they are used to sleeping in their own beds with their own things.

A great way to help them to adjust is to bring them their own blanket. It will smell like home which is comforting for them. You can even prewash or spray the blanket so that it smells more like home than usual. That way the smell will last longer. I like to use some mild perfume that I usually use so that my son will feel like I am around.

Something that may be wise to do is to choose a daycare which speaks to you. Choose a daycare that hires people who are similar to you, who do things similar to the way you do them. It’s okay to do this and is even beneficial because it’s what your child is used to. Your child will feel more comfortable in their environment and may sleep better at daycare.

Make sure that whatever it is you choose to send with your child is only for naptime. If you make it into something special for naptime, it turns that item into their “transitional love object”. It will remind them of home and something they look forward to when naptime comes.

Routine and Consistency

Routine and Consistency are super important. Letting your daycare know what your child’s sleeping routine is at home will improve their time at daycare. Those who work at daycares are professionals and are usually more than happy to learn as much as they can about your child so they can make them as comfortable as possible. Letting the daycare know your child’s routines will help them emulate at daycare the way you do things to your child’s benefit.

Some children take more than one nap throughout the day. Daycares need to know this too. They are good at their jobs, but informing them as much as you can about your child’s routines and habits will make things easier for everyone. They also need to know how you put your child to bed. Do you rock your child? Do you sing them a song? What kind of music do you play for them, if any?

How you put your child to sleep is just as important and when and how often. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it can be more important if a child is really restless. Let your daycare know the tricks that you use at home. It could be something so small that you haven’t even thought about that you always do with your child that helps them to sleep. Examine what you do in your own routine and keep up the consistency by sharing that information with the daycare.

Visit Your Child

You have to be careful with this one. It may not work for everyone because for some children, seeing their parent just makes it worse. But is it a suggested method. Take some time out of your day to go visit your child for the first little while they are adjusting to daycare. Let them see you for a little while. Seeing you will reassure them and help them better adjust to their circumstances. You can slowly make your visits less and less frequent until they’ve adjusted.

Another good idea would be to go to the daycare during their naptime and put them to sleep. Their comfort and ease is key to their being able to sleep. They are used to you putting them to sleep anyway, plus it will give the daycare a chance to see how you do it. (Not that that will be your objective going in.) It will also give you a chance to spend a little peaceful time with your child and could be very therapeutic. There’s something really precious about a sleeping child that just melts your insides and brings you peace.

Accept the Change

Some children just won’t sleep as well at daycare. Children will always be more comfortable in their own homes, that’s a fact. After exhausting all of your efforts to help them to sleep well, nothing may change. They’ll be okay. All you have to do is try your best. Everything can’t be perfect. I know that as mothers we always want everything to go the right way- even if logically it will never be perfect, we try. If all else fails, stop trying so hard.

Sometimes children just need time to adjust and there’s nothing we can do. Obviously, you should try to do your best first, but don’t get too worked up if you don’t succeed when you wanted to. And remember that in time they may adjust to the changes and be able to sleep. If you’ve done all you can then all you need to do is wait and see what your efforts will bring you. Part of accepting the changes is being able to wait for the changes to make a difference. Maybe some of what you tried isn’t immediately working. Remember that your child may just not like to be at daycare.

Different children have different personalities. They have likes and dislikes and may be better equipped emotionally for change. If you keep that in mind you might be able to understand a little bit better how sleeping at daycare can be hard for some children.

Note: With regards to change, some children are restless because they’ve had too much change going on at home and things like that. You can help them out by minimizing change as much as possible.  Sometimes it’s all about minimizing the change and stimulation that is going on around them. They are too little to comprehend and understand change the way we understand it. We can help them adjust by rearranging how we do things, and by accepting that it may not be exactly the way our child wants it. (Or even sometimes how we want it.)

Too Much Stimulation

Daycares are places which provide a lot of fun and activities. Along with those activities comes other children and a lot of stimulation. Some kids are more restless than others and cannot sleep if they have too much stimulation. If your child cannot nap at daycare, try asking the daycare to put them in a quieter and darker room. When lights are turned off your brain releases melatonin after a while. It helps your body relax and makes you sleepy.

Besides, too much stimulation can often be a cause for their being cranky later on. That, added to the lack of a nap can make for a very chaotic evening when they come home. Eliminate the stimulation for a while by moving them to somewhere calmer and more dimly lit can help them get a better sleep.

Alternative to a Nap

To add on to the subject of stimulation, a toddler that has too much stimulation may not be able to take a nap even if you put them in a quieter place. If this is the case, don’t worry, sometimes a bit of quiet time as an alternative can be just as effective as a nap. Reading a book to a toddler or doing something that is calming and quiet for the time it would take them to nap is a good alternative. They get a portion of the rest that they need and it helps them to recenter themselves before they go back to play with the other kids.

Also, some toddlers have days where they don’t need a nap. If they’ve slept well the night before then they may have all the energy they need to get through the day. Other days they may have had a rough night and will need a nap really badly. It all depends on what their night was like before. But remember that some might not even need one.

In-home Nanny and Daycare

If you are worried about your child being able to nap and their health is being affected because they can’t get their sleep in, a private nanny is a good option. This is a good option because it’s someone your child can really get used to, and they can do all the childcare at home. This one is a great option, but it’s a bit more difficult for those who cannot afford it. Nannies aren’t always more expensive, but sometimes they can be.

There are daycares out there that will come to your home and watch your child at your house. It’s really nice and it’s similar to the private nanny idea, only with a daycare. They can follow your routine and schedule with optimal success because your child will be in an environment that is familiar. You don’t have to drive them anywhere and you’ll be able to relax in the knowledge they are going to be able to get their nap in peacefully. It may not be perfect, but you have a better chance of succeeding this way if you are really worried about their health.

Daycare Can’t Follow Your Routine?

Some daycares aren’t able to follow the routine you have set for your child. If your daycare can’t follow the routine you have set out for your child’s sleep, a good solution would be to change your child’s nap schedule to the daycare’s schedule. It may not be what you were hoping to hear, but it is a good way for your child to get some stability and be able to start getting the rest that they need. Plus, it will be a lot easier for you in the long run. (Especially if your child comes home less cranky than they have in the past.)

Besides, daycares have routines and schedules that are structured around the needs of the children and babies they take care of. Even if it’s not your routine, it’ll still help your child get their nap in. Routines establish stability as was mentioned earlier. They will help your child feel safe and secure in an unfamiliar environment. If you use the same sleep routine as the daycare uses you may even find that they sleep better at home too. It’ll be a rough start if you have to change the routine you are accustomed to using, but your child will adjust and so will you. In the long run, you’ll be happy that you made the change.

What Kinds of Things Can I Send with My Child to Daycare to Help Them Sleep?

Here is a small list of things you can send with your child other than a blanket that may help them sleep. Also, there is also a list of things you can use if your child doesn’t have anything they usually use to help them sleep. Even introducing some new things can be useful in helping them have an easier time napping at daycare:

  • Lovey
  • Blanket from home
  • Pillow from home
  • Stuffed animal or 
  • Pacifier 
  • Swaddle blanket
  • iPod with specific music
  • Sleep spray (Lavender and Chamomile for relaxation)
  • Books you usually read (If you are worried about taking your only copy, purchase one that is specific for your child’s time at daycare.)

All of these items are special naptime-only items. Make sure that daycare providers understand the importance of not losing these items or allowing your child to play with them outside of naptime. It’s like in school when they tell you to study at the same place/desk every time you study. The human brain responds really well to habit and routine. It’s extremely important with children that their routines are not only established but that the tools we use to establish those routines are kept well.

Daycares are used to things like this and are more often than willing to oblige you in your requests. 

Related Questions

How can I get my baby to sleep in the crib? If your child won’t sleep in the crib and just wants to cuddle with you, try putting them in the crib when they are half asleep and half awake. You can also try setting the stage for your child to feel comfortable. Also, remember that what temperature you have the room at makes a difference, since your baby may be used to sleeping close to you. They may be used to your body temperature. Click here for a post with some more tips to help them adjust to sleeping in their crib on their own.

At what time should I be putting my child to sleep? That depends on how old your child is. If your child is an infant to toddler, six-thirty to seven o’clock is a good time to put your baby down for bed. They may not fall asleep immediately, but if you get an earlier start, that’ll give you time for rocking, singing, and for them to slowly fall asleep.

How do I get my baby to sleep through the night? There are a lot of methods you can use to help your baby sleep all the way through the night. Things like co-sleeping, late-night feeding, and not immediately rushing to their aid are all things you can do to help them get through the entire night. Sleep training your baby can be hard, but it’s worth it in the end. Click here for my post that explains all of these methods (and more).

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