Naptime with an agitated child
All early childhood educators will, at some point, meet an agitated child: a child who needs to run, jump, and play outside, a child who seems to have endless energy, who could go from evening to morning without stopping. An agitated child, with his constant need for movement, is unique. He will demand extra attention. Nonetheless, an agitated child is endearing. I love these energy-filled little beings...
I have met two types of agitated children. There are those who instantly fall asleep on their mattress at naptime because they are completely exhausted by the time it rolls around and there are those who cannot seem to stay still long enough to fall asleep. Several reasons can explain why a child may have difficulty falling asleep: trouble stopping himself, exhaustion, other conditions such as ADHD, etc. Unfortunately, agitated children often see naptime removed from their daily schedule. Because early childhood educators or parents give up, claiming it is simply too difficult to get them to sleep, they no longer reap the benefits of naptime. The result: they are more and more tired and more and more irritable. Research has proven that an exhausted child will be hyperactive, irritable, prone to having mood swings, etc. The advantages of naptime have been known for a long time now. How can you help children calm down and rest without engaging in a long and difficult combat?
A stable routine. It is beneficial for all, but children who take a long time to fall asleep need it even more than others. The entire naptime ritual should last no longer than 30 minutes. Take the time to create a calm atmosphere and slowly help children wind down and prepare for sleep by repeating the same actions daily.
Choose calming activities. There are many and they are highly beneficial for children. Think of yoga, massages, relaxation exercises, and guided meditation. If necessary, increase the duration of calming activities prior to naptime. Some children may fall asleep before the end of these activities whereas others may require a longer period to calm down. Simply extending this period can be helpful.
Stay calm. At all times, you must remain calm. This is true even if an agitated child is performing somersaults on his naptime mattress. A calm and neutral tone of voice must be used. If you feel you are about to get upset, breathe and try to refocus. If necessary, momentarily remove yourself from the situation.
Introduce the use of weighted stuffed animals. For many children, setting a weighted stuffed animal on their legs can be very useful. You can make your own or purchase them in specialized stores. They are very calming for children and help them remain on their naptime mattress.
Make sure your requests are consistent. Consistency is necessary when you wish to apply rules or make requests. Informing children of what you expect from them and rigorously applying what you say is of utmost importance.
Naptime may no longer be necessary around the age of 4-5 years old, but the need to relax remains. As children get older, their need to sleep during the day is less important. This is true for all children. However, a relaxation period is still necessary. Ask children to lie down on their naptime mattress and relax for approximately one hour. After this period, provide calm activities they can enjoy quietly while others sleep.
Of course, collaborating with parents is important. Inform them of the situation and identify solutions together. Working together will lead to better results...and a happier naptime for all!
Maude Dubé, Specialized educator