Carmela is 21 months old, and a student in my classroom in a community college lab school. Because she loves to play and is not as sleepy as many of the other children she usually struggles at nap-time. Often, the teachers in the classroom will tell substitutes and student teachers, “Carmela doesn’t sleep as long as the other children.”
But recently I tried some new ways to help her sleep.
She naps on a mat, so there are not a lot of physical boundaries to keep her still, and this means that it's pretty easy for her to engage a teacher in an unwanted game of tag. She'll get up and run around while the other children are asleep around her.
One day, she caught my eye and made sure I watched her almost purposely step on a sleeping child’s head as she ran past. This seemed like her signal to me that she was looking for help. I was not able to move close to her immediately but I said quietly and firmly, “I can’t let you wake up your friends.”
In the past, I've tried several approaches to help Carmela to sleep. Some days I ask her to come back and let her take her time, and that can work. Or, after giving her a chance to come back on her own without success, I’ll tell her I need to help her.
Today, when I got to her, I kindly said, “I can help you to come to your mat.”
I picked her up, consciously being gentle and warm while cradling and containing her. I brought with her back to the mat. She lay down and I covered her up. She started to cry but did not try to get up again. I listened to her, not making physical contact but staying very close. She cried for a long time, very sadly.
I know this child well, and I have seen what happens when she is allowed to feel her feelings of grief. She shows so much relief.
I knew it would be OK this time too.
After about four minutes, she went to sleep.
Setting a limit and then listening, even through what seemed like very distraught crying, can make a very big difference. That day, Carmela had a long, full, and sound sleep.
She woke up light and happy, and I observed she continued to be more playful for the rest of the week.
Get more help with crying in our free e-book, Secrets to Transforming Tantrums
Learn how children use crying to calm themselves and relieve tensions in The Science Behind Staylistening.