EATING AND SLEEPING-SUCH COMPELLING TOPICS! IS BABY eating enough to gain weight? Sleeping enough to stay healthy? Teachers and parents feel responsible for baby's overall health and often have strong feelings about both. Your role is to find out what is important to each family and develop a plan together. Likewise, take time to reflect on your own preferences. It's difficult to adjust to the individual needs of each child if you're on automatic pilot.

Both eating and sleeping should be pleasurable experiences that refuel children for active learning and exploring. Infant feeding and sleeping patterns are highly individualized, so focus on responding to each child's needs rather than sticking to a strict schedule. It often takes young babies a few months to settle into a daily rhythm that is in sync with the larger group.

By making an effort to continue routines that her family has established, you can help a baby develop patterns. For instance, if parents put their baby down in the crib and expect her to fall asleep on her own, follow their lead. If another family rocks or pats their baby to sleep, make that your routine with their child. Naturally there will be slight differences in the way each person does these things. Most important, however, is that you are collaborating with families.

Parents can help you tune into children's cues. Six-month-- old Joseph may rub his ear and yawn to display signs of tiredness; Caroline might signal that she needs sleep by becoming very active with lots of kicking and flailing.

As you know, families bring to your program a wide variety of deeply held beliefs about eating and sleeping. Some may value independence and translate that to wanting their toddler to feed herself as soon as possible. Others may feel strongly about feeding their child throughout toddlerhood. Take time to find out how each family feels. If you sense that someone feels uneasy discussing these topics, wait until a more comfortable time. If you need to discuss a specific concern or difficulty, try to keep the tone of your voice and your views neutral so parents don't feel their beliefs are being judged.

One approach that has been especially successful in building strong parent/teacher/child relationships is the primary caregiving system. In these child care settings, one teacher is responsible for the total care of a small group of children. She is able to get to know individual children more deeply. Strong bonds of affection often develop. Primary caregiving also gives each family a specific person to share information with and develop a growing, comfortable relationship.

Share the Care

Parents know their child's signals and patterns. To help you better understand each child's unique approaches to both sleeping and eating:

  • Ask parents to share their child's cues. How do they know their child is hungry? How do they know their child may be getting sleepy?
  • Encourage parents to jot down and share how many hours their child sleeps each night, if their child wakes up during the night and why, and any concerns about feeding or sleeping patterns.
  • Write similar notes as each day progresses to share and/or send home with parents.
  • Use these notes to foster your ongoing communication effort.