With Infant Mental Health Awareness Week around the corner(11-17 June 2018), this article from Cindy Davenport is a timely reminder of the importance of having an infant mental approach to sleep and settling the children in your care. Under ACECQA’s NQF revisions, every service must have a policy on sleep for children, but not all policies are created equal.
A child and family health nurse, among other roles, Cindy gives advice that makes a must-read article for any educator or director looking for practical, caring strategies to help infants and toddlers settle. Scroll down for links to more resources from the you can share with parents and colleagues from the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc.(AAIMHI), too.
Growth and rest
The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a child’s development. We know that the earliest relationships with caregivers, can help promote healthy brain development and build social and emotional skills, while supporting a child’s language and literacy development. It’s through these relationships that children learn more about their world – how to think, understand, communicate, behave, show emotions, develop social skills and move around.
Relationships let children express themselves. For example, a cry, a laugh or a question is responded to with a cuddle, a smile or an answer. And by communicating back and forth with a child, we are creating and sharing experiences together, which strengthens relationships and helps them learn more about the world at the same time.
Tuning in and responding to a child with warmth and gentleness, lays the foundations for a child’s healthy development and helps to shape the adult that they will become. It also lays the foundations for restful sleep. A calm and content child, who understands there is emotional support available to them from their caregivers should they need it, is more likely to experience better quality sleep than a child who is left to cry and ‘manage’ on their own.
Sleep as a skill
It’s no great surprise that most babies and toddlers are not skilled at calming in preparation for sleep and often require help. Here are 5 tips to help prepare the children in your care for a restful slumber.
- Babies and toddlers respond well to experiences that replicate their time in utero, such as gentle rocking, a massage, cuddles and containment, rhythmic swaying and gentle quiet voices.
- A darkened room may also help a child calm and relax.
- Most young babies enjoy being swaddled – but never wrap a baby who has never been swaddled or has shown signs of rolling.
- An older baby or toddler tends to respond well to a sleep time routine – or predictable pattern of events that you take them through before putting them down.
Learn the early signs of tiredness
- Always look for early tired signs and cues of the children in your care. Ensure those children exhibiting early tired signs are prepared for sleep first, as they are at risk of becoming overtired. Use your ‘wind down’ techniques such as reading a story or giving them an upright cuddle, so they can anticipate and prepare for sleep. You may find the more active children in the room require a little more winding down or preparation for sleep. You therefore might like to group these children together and read them an additional story or sing a soothing song.
Regardless of their temperament, all children respond well to the same regular wind-down pattern as they learn to anticipate what’s next.
For more tips and strategies and to access the FREE Formative Years learning module, visit www.sleepsmart.education. Sleep Smart is an online safe sleep and settling course created specifically for Early Childhood Educators. The course develops a deeper appreciation of a child’s needs, cues and capabilities and arms participants with step-by-step strategies for creating an emotional and physical safe sleep space. The program also helps equip participants with the essential information and training to support compliance with ACECQA’s mandatory sleep and settling policies and procedures.
Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc.(AAIMHI) has developed a range of resources that draw attention to Infant Mental Health.
‘Letter from your baby’ written by Andrew Roberts
Dear Mum and Dad,
This first year is pretty intense, isn’t it? You’re adjusting to huge changes in your world. So am I! It’s going to take time and patience for us to figure things out together.
I can’t tell you in words yet what I feel and what I need. A lot of the time you’ll have to guess, and you won’t always get it right. But please keep trying. Just the way you keep trying reassures me that you love me, and that’s the most important thing I need to know.
When you look at me and smile, it feels wonderful…
Made available by permission from Andrew Roberts, author
Read and download the https://www.aaimhi.org/events-and-training/imh-awareness-week-2018/Dear-Mum-and-Dad_Final-AAIMHI-2018.pdf
Information about Infant Mental Health for parents. INFO SHEET
- What does good mental health look like?
- Helping your baby become secure and confident
- What would babies tell us if they had words?
- What experiences can harm you baby’s mental health?
How to care for infant mental health
Listen to or read the transcript and forward on to your colleagues this informative PODCAST of ABC radio program All in the Mind with Lynne Malcolm interviewing Prof Louise Newman, Sally Watson (President, AAIMHI) and Kathy (mother to Tomas) in May 2016. PODCAST of interview
Meet the author
Cindy Davenport is a child and family health nurse, midwife and lactation consultant, and has worked in the early parenting field since 1998. Cindy is the Co-Director of Safe Sleep Space, an early parenting consultancy group specialising in sleep and settling of infants and toddlers and Sleep Smart, an online safe sleep and settling training programme for Early Childhood Educators and Health Professionals.