About sleeping away from home
At some point your child might need to sleep away from home without you.
This might be when your child goes to child care and is still having daytime naps. Or there might be times when you need to be away for work or you work late, so your child needs to sleep at a relative’s or friend’s house.
You might also be thinking about your child having a sleepover with their grandparents or other relatives so you can have a night out. Or you might want to strengthen the relationship between your child and their extended family members with a special activity like a sleepover. In this situation, it’s best to be guided by whether you think your child is ready.
Either way, it might help to know that most children learn to cope with sleeping away from home.
Some children might have separation anxiety when they’re away from you. Separation anxiety is a common part of development. Practice and praise can help children cope with separating from you.
Preparing children to sleep away from home
If your child will be sleeping away from home without you, knowing what’s going to happen can help your child feel safer and happier.
For toddlers, it’s a good idea to explain what’s going to happen in words they can understand. For example, ‘You’re having a sleepover at Nanna’s. She’ll give you milk and a story before bed, just like we do at home. I’ll see you tomorrow’.
For preschoolers, you can give as much information as you think they can handle about:
- where they’re going
- who’ll be looking after them
- where and when they’ll be sleeping
- when you’ll be back.
The ‘What if?’ game is also a great way to prepare children for new experiences like sleeping away from home without you. For example, you could ask, ‘What will you do if you wake up during the night? That’s right, you’ll call out to Nanna’.
You can make it fun by drawing pictures of what’s going to happen or by talking about the person your child is going to visit. Seeing photos of the person or speaking with the person on the phone might also help your child. You could even do a fun camp-out in the family room at home first.
Maintaining children’s sleep routines away from home
Doing the same things away from home can help your child adapt to unfamiliar places, so sleeping away can be easier if you can maintain your child’s usual sleep routine.
If your child will be sleeping away from home at child care, it might help to know that most child care centres will try to follow children’s regular feeding, sleeping and play routines, especially for babies.
It can help if you describe your child’s sleep routine to anyone who’ll be caring for your child away from home, like grandparents, relatives, early childhood educators and carers, and so on. For example, ‘Levi likes a story before his nap’, ‘Lani’s routine is bottle-feed at 6 pm, bath at 6.30 pm, and bed at 7 pm’ or ‘Lil settles well with a quiet lullaby’.
For overnight stays, it’s a good idea to pack anything special that helps your child settle for sleep, like a teddy, blanket or favourite pair of pyjamas. If you use a night light, white noise machine or something else to control light and noise while your child is asleep, make sure you pack these too.
You can also let carers know about things your child might need during naps or at night. For example, let them know if your child typically:
- wants to use the toilet before settling
- wants a drink of water or milk
- feels scared of the dark
- has night terrors or sleepwalks
- calls out or wants to get out of bed
- wets the bed.
If your child is sleeping away from home without you, remember to think about safe sleeping. It’s OK to ask your child’s carer for details of sleeping arrangements and supervision.
Managing your feelings when your child is sleeping away from home
You might feel excited about having your child sleep away from home without you if you’re having a special night out or returning to work. It’s also natural to feel anxious.
If your child is sleeping away from home at child care, talking to your child’s educator regularly can help you manage your worries. It’s also OK to call your child care service to check how your child is settling for sleep. Most centres welcome this, and it can help to ease your mind.
If your child is sleeping at a relative’s or friend’s house, you can call before bed to check how your child is going. Or you could call in the morning to find out how your child has slept.