Nap time is such an important element of a child’s development. I was so surprised when we had our first child and she just napped most of the day away. She took 3 to 4 naps during the day from 1 to 3 hours in length. She also woke up in the middle of the night for 1 to 2 hours which sucks, but the babies under 3 months old nap much more than I had expected. I am a father of three girls who are ages 5, 4, and 2 years old. Right now I’m struggling with my 2 year old and her naps. Naps change significantly from 3 months old to about 3 years old. The struggle trying to figure out these nap changes is a real pain in the butt. Here are the strategies that I have used as I transitioned each kid during their different napping schedules.
Okay, before we begin, I will put a sleep control on my whole experience with napping. Here are the ground rules that we stuck to completely. If you raise your kids differently, then naps may be totally different for you. I will advise you that keeping your kids on a strict sleep schedule does work. Kids like a predictable environment. First off, I don’t let my kids sleep in past 730am. If I do, their whole schedule is thrown off. I also put my kids down to bed at the following times; 730pm if they are 12 months or younger, 8pm if they are 12 to 24 months old, and 830pm if they are older than 24 months. Bedtime is a nonnegotiable activity because you cannot get consistent napping if you are keeping your kids up late at night. I also mandate naps because I NEED SOME ME TIME. Bedtime is not just for the kids benefit, but it allows the adults to watch some TV, have some ice cream, or complain to each other about how the kids sucked at napping that day. The other thing I stick to is no snacks, treats, or food one hour before bedtime. Giving your kid ice cream, candy, or a high fat/high carb food item is setting them up for failure and no sleep. They will be up kicking the doors, screaming, or banging at the walls until 10pm at night. With that said, here is how napping worked out for me.
When your kid is under 18 months old they usually take about two naps. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. I don’t ever let the afternoon nap go past 4pm because it will wreck the bedtime routine. A two nap kid is pretty easy to handle and you know when they don’t get the required amount of sleep. Lots and lots of crying and whining. Transitioning your kid to a one nap day is a bit tricky. You really have to feel it out.
You know your kid is ready for one nap when they don’t sleep. That’s pretty simple to understand. If they are not sleeping for one of their naps, or they are getting harder and harder to put to bed at night; it is time to transition to the one nap day. That nap time will eventually start off just after lunch, and as they get older, the one nap day will move into the 1 to 130pm range. This transition takes about a month for them to acclimate, but then your kid will be taking solid 3 hour naps, which is a beautiful thing.
Somewhere around 2 years old or just after, my kids start shortening that awesome three hour nap. Every kid is different. My oldest transitioned to a 1.5 hour nap right at two years old, but my youngest is still holding strong on a 2 to 3 hour nap at two and a half years old. Every kid is a little different, but it is easy to tell when they are shortening their nap times. The kid will wake up and start screaming. Got it! You are only napping for 1.5 hours now.
Somewhere around 3 years old, the nap for my kids went away immediately. It sort of sucks but is awesome at the same time. It sucks because I planned on getting stuff done during the nap like mopping the floor, doing laundry, or the dishes (writing a blog article). It also sucks because they get really cranky in the evening around dinner time because they really should still be napping. It’s great however, because our weekend schedules for activities are no longer held hostage by those naps. I really hate how your schedule always has to revolve around a kid getting a nap. That means naps have to happen back at home or you need at least 1 good hour driving back home from your destination. You cannot have a fun time at the amusement park or beach all day if a kid needs to take a nap in the middle of the day. This leads to another thing I have heard which I don’t understand, “Quiet Time.”
What the hell is “Quiet Time?” I don’t know what this is. Some parents talk about it like some magical thing that happens even if your kids don’t nap anymore. I guess you put them in their room to screw around for 1.5 hours while you lay on the couch. I don’t know what this is because my kids have never participated in quiet time. They have only participated in “Naps, Naps, Naps? Screw Your Freaking Naps!” Believe me when I say that I have tried quiet time. However, my quiet time turns into kicking the doors, screaming “DAAAADDDY” for 30 minutes straight, and banging crap against the wall. It’s like a Dylan Thomas poem except they will not go gentle into that good nap, they will RAGE, RAGE against the dying of the light! (More like raging against my sanity is what I was thinking.)
Exhibit A: Dinner time while we are trying to give up our afternoon nap.
In my experience, really horrible stuff happens when they are fighting against you and giving up the nap completely. You end up with a 3 year old emotional wreck in your house. This lasts for about three months. I try and convince them to nap, I try to put them in their room to nap, and I try to wear them out so they get a nap. However, when they are determined not to nap anymore, there really isn’t much you can do. You pretty much have to embrace the suck. One of the things each of my kids did when they gave up that final nap was to fall asleep at the dinner table. You want them to nap so much but they are determined to stay awake until they fall asleep at the dinner table. I hate this because now we are sleeping and completely screwing up bed time.
Those are my insights. Napping is great, but you basically have to be a toddler whisperer to understand when to transition naps. I mostly do it by their moods and ability to actually fall asleep. If you are one of those lucky people who can pull off quiet time, I’m very envious of you.