A new nap dilemma

On and off over the years, we’ve had a variety of “sleep”:/news/2008/how-to-transition-from-co-sleeper-to-crib/ “questions”:/news/2009/night-wakings/ with our girls. But we are encountering a new one. Could it be that Lucy is starting to give up her daily nap? And is there any way we can prevent this?


p{color:gray}. Photo: Happy. Just not always sleepy.

For almost a month now, Lucy has been skipping two or three naps a week. I still put her down for her afternoon nap every day, but sometimes she lies there for about 30-40 minutes, and then starts calling out: “Mama! Mama! Mama!” It is clear that she hasn’t napped, and she won’t nap if I leave her in there at this point. So I get her up. Often, she is quite peaceful for awhile, but then gets a little overtired around dinnertime, which you can tell by the uncharacteristically hyperactive child running around the table and occasionally bursting into tears. We do our best to get her down to bed early on such days.

Generally, I think Lucy is certainly getting enough sleep to be healthy. She usually gets about twelve hours in a night, going to sleep around 8:00 pm and waking up around 7:30-8:00 am. When she does nap, she usually naps for about two hours. This is lovely for everyone, especially since she wakes up happy and peaceful and is a joy to be around (as usual). This week, however, we have noticed more nighttime wake-ups, including an episode that seemed like a “night terror.” (Poor Jon was up with her for 90 minutes with that one.) Some of this could be attributed to a slight cold she has right now, but it also might be that we need to put her to bed even earlier at night — especially if she skips her nap.

But since she is nearly three years old and getting such good sleep at night, I’m wondering if she is starting to phase out the nap, at least on some days. She is a much more pleasant person when she *does* nap, but I know naps won’t last forever. So we are trying to discern what to do in the transition time.

I’m interested in the “quiet time” practice that I’ve read and heard about from other parents. It seems that, by the time a child is old enough to give up their nap, they are old enough to play quietly in their room during the naptime. This seems like a great idea to me! I did recently try this with Lucy, but we only had moderate success. After it became clear that she was not going to nap, I instructed here to play quietly in her room or “the fun room”:/news/2007/little-darling/ (our play room). And, while she did read some books, she did not do it quietly. “Mama! Mama! This is a BIG gorilla!” Lately, I’ve been sitting with her in the fun room for this quiet time, working on my computer while she reads “books”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312490755/octothorppres-20 and trying to encourage her to keep her voice low. This has been successful, but I’d love to teach her to have some independent play. Lucy is often good at this, but not after spending 40 minutes lying in the dark failing to nap. :)

There are so many factors to consider. I’m currently experimenting with waking Lucy up by 7:30 am (instead of letting her sleep until 8:00 on some days), hoping that a regular wake-up time with help her to be ready for her nap. We’ve also talked about the possibility of really making the transition to the “big bed”:/news/2008/lucys-big-girl-bed/, which Lucy is still reluctant to commit to. And I’m wondering if there are new ways I need to encourage independent, quiet play on the days that she skips her nap.

Nap-time feels pretty crucial for the overall health of our family. Not only do I think Lucy needs it to function happily the rest of the day, but I know I need this break for my own emotional well-being. To be honest, the unpredictability of nap-times these days has really got me stressed. I keep telling myself that we’re still in a transition period, and most likely this issue will resolve itself in a few months. In the meantime, we’ve got a few ideas to try out, and we’d love any advice you have to share!

9 Replies to “A new nap dilemma”

  1. Charis did (and does) the same thing — you’ll think she’s exhausted, sing her lots of nice, soothing songs (even the bedtime mix of “The Coffee Song”), tuck her in, go through the whole routine — and within five minutes, she’s calling you.

    We’ve handled it two ways. First, we’ve used the evangelically-correct “quiet time” approach. We’ll bring her down to the family room, give her a big pile of books, and tell her she’s to look at them quietly. Sometimes, we’ll put on a CD of lullabies as well. She’s done quite well with this — she loves her books, and can spend an hour just looking through the pictures. (Kathrin’s seed catalogs are a big hit for this purpose also). At the end of her allotted time, we tell her she can play quietly, and gradually ease her back into her day. While it’s not ideal (i.e., child sleeping=mommy happy), it does giver her the opportunity to rest physically and mentally.

    The second way we’ve handled it might not be as popular. In other contexts, when Charis’ behavior has been defiant and, at the same time, dangerous to herself or Aren (e.g., not obeying her Mommy’s repeated call not to run into the street), we’ve found that we’ve had to raise the ante a bit and … er … her. (Shhh. Don’t tell.) There have been occasions at nap time when Charis has been exhausted and desperately in need of sleep, yet unable to slow down enough to rest. On a few of these occasions, we have used the threat of a spanking to overcome her defiance. We’ll go through the whole routine, tuck her in, kiss her goodnight, and leave, only to be called back in three minutes later. If, after putting her back to bed and trying again, this repeats, we’ll quietly tuck her in again, kiss her goodnight, and calmly say something like, “Now it’s time to rest, so I don’t want to hear you calling me back in here again. If you do, I’ll have to take you downstairs, spank you, and bring you right back up and put you back in bed.” We did this once, to show her what it meant, essentially tapping her “bum” so she understood what a “spanking” was. (We did take her downstairs for this — we didn’t want this sort of punishment to become associated with her room in any way). Now that she gets it, we can issue the “threat,” and it’ll work about 75% of the time. (I tried the more popular “Forty more days and Charis will be destroyed” line, but it doesn’t work as well).

    Finally, if nothing works, she gets and earlier bedtime. When she turned three, she “graduated” to a 7:30 bedtime. Aren, who is two, still goes up at 7:00. If Charis doesn’t nap, we tell her, “OK — you can stay up, but you’re going up at the same time as Aren tonight.” She has never really resisted this, and by 7:00, she’s spent anyway and has sometimes even asked to go to bed.

    If nothing else works, we add it to the list of things we can use to make her feel guilty one day when she doesn’t call or visit us in the old folks’ home enough.

  2. Benjamin occasionally skips his nap (maybe once every week or two). I too try to have him play quietly in his room. I’ve had success with this a few times, but have also had the issue of him calling for me or coming to show me something. I think quiet time will be easier when he doesn’t nap or I know when he doesn’t need to nap because after laying in bed for 30 minutes quietly, I think it’s hard for him to then sit in his room quietly.

    I’ve been working on finding toys that are quiet and good for his age (he is nearly 4) that can only be brought out during quiet times. This is a double bonus because many age appropriate toys for him, are not age appropriate for the girls, so this keeps them away from the girls and makes them a special toy for him, thereby more likely to keep his attention. One of his favorites right now is Legos.

    I also let him play on the computer for 15 – 30 minutes when he doesn’t nap. He sits quietly in the office playing games off the Disney Playhouse website and that at least gives me a little bit of a break.

    I set his nightlight on a timer for an hour and when that turns on he can come out. This works okay – I expect it to work better as this becomes a more consistent thing, right now it’s so sporadic that it’s hard to develop a consistent plan.

    On days he doesn’t nap, we put him to bed between 7 and 7:30 pm (as opposed to 8:30 – 9:00 pm on days he does nap).

    It sounds like Lucy probably still needs at least a little bit of a nap – on the days Benjamin skips the nap, as long as we put him to bed super early, he doesn’t really act overtired. Perhaps you could try moving her naptime 30 minutes to an hour later and then just having a 60 – 90 minute nap for her? Have you noticed any consistency to when she skips the nap – like she went to bed a little earlier the night before or slept a little later that morning or just generally has more energy that day? If you could figure out the days she’s likely to resist the nap, you could try moving it later just on those days.

    Good Luck!

  3. Addendum.

    Regarding the threat of spanking: I should mention that this is something that we’ve introduced with Charis recently — i.e., around 3-and-a-half. Not when she was Lucy’s age. (With Aren, however, we have already turned to this “last resort,” and he’s only just now 2 — but I think Charis was of a more fragile spirit, and the threat of spanking would not have been a good thing for her at that age. Aren’s just a boy.)

    When she was Lucy’s age, we tended toward what I described first. Even when we knew she wasn’t going to nap, we went through the whole routine, and when it crashed, we took her downstairs and let her lay on the couch instead, with quiet lullabies playing on the stereo (sometimes with, sometimes without books). Many times she fell asleep on the couch and still got something of a nap in. And if not, at least she had down time, and Kathrin had tea time.

    Be encouraged, though — just when we thought Charis was giving up her nap altogether and we were resorting to the couch every day, she grew out of it. And we have a few friends at church who said the same thing — their children also went through a phase, right about the same age, and they eventually outgrew it.

    Good luck!

  4. I’d say she’s definitely starting to give it up, as is Mo. What I find is that they will go several days without, and then catch up. Rather than make her nap, try a different sort of Quiet Time. My best friend has 3 under 5 years old. The 4 year old has to spend nap time in a room and she can have books and animals to play with, but her daughter is much better behaved than mine ever were. With Kaia we instituted quiet time, and she was allowed to watch a movie, but she had to lay down and be quiet. Those were the rules. Either you lay down and take a nap, or you lay down, be quiet and watch the movie. The inactivity really helped her be in a better mood. And because her choice was sleep or movie, she usually was happy to have her pick.

  5. Naps are so tricky. Especially when children are not mature enough to really know if they need one or not. It sounds like Lucy needs 1/2 of a nap. I like the idea of waking her up in the morning. I’ve been waking my kids at 7am for years now; even 20 minutes later and they won’t nap. Both of mine still nap (they are 3 and 5.5) and I know that’s kinda weird. On days that they resist, they may stay in their rooms with books, activity books, whatever quiet thing will keep them in their room for the non-nap (as we call it). Josi will sometimes walk around in her room for 2 hours! Abi needs a post-it with the wake-up time next to a digital clock. If she comes out repeatedly, I sometimes say “I love you and I want to see you at 3 o’clock, not before.” Other days, I’ll say “I have work to do till 3 o’clock, so you can color by me quietly, then we’ll mix up the muffins together at 3.” I think some kids give up naps gradually, only napping 5 times a week, then 3 times, then 7 times, then twice, etc over a period of months. Not a comforting thought for someone like me who counts on the naptime for my own mental health time, dinner prep time, phone call time, think my own thoughts time. I understand your frustration!

  6. Madelyn did this too. We have found that she needs more physical activity as the days she doesn’t want a nap we had spent the morning at the library or doing more low key stuff and then expected her to nap. So we make sure to put in several high energy things for her to do. Also being overtired leads to more night wake-ups, which leads to less napping. So if we can’t get her to nap we put a soft cd in her room and tell her she can come out when it is over and we put it in for 60min. Her room doesn’t have any toys, just books and a bed. So she knows that is all she can do. We don’t let her out of her room (unless she has to go to the bathroom, which she only gets to do once). She is really good at staying in her room, but it took time and often she will talk herself to sleep. We have done the family car ride to. and we have come to the conclusion that some days she isn’t going to nap, but in our family we all take a rest. We tell her it is rest time, and in our family we all rest. No talkin, just resting. She respects it as much as a three your old can and is really pretty good. I would say all school days she naps for 2 hours and home days she either sleeps for 1.5 to 3 hours. Lydia takes two naps still with two hours in the morning (time for just Maddy and mom and dad) and 1 – 3 hours in the afternoon while maddy sleeps … and so does mom and dad!

  7. Oh, I hate when they give up naps!
    I had four so close in age that I did enforce a quiet time period every day for a few years so that I could have a little peace in the middle of the day. Sometimes people actually fell asleep in there (they were all in the same room!) and sometimes there was a lot of wrestling and other times there was crying. We did have to spank a few people sometimes because their behavior made it so that others couldn’t have a quiet time. Even though this time was hardly ever “quiet” (except in a Danielson Family sort of way), knowing they were safe in their room without me for an hour a day gave me a bit of much-needed time to read, pray and sit by myself. Books on tape were the thing that worked the best for me to get all the kids to settle down for that period. Of course, then they had to fight about which tape!

  8. Hey Ann,
    This is one thing that I hope we can speak about soon! I hate to admit it, but I’ve left Abby in her room for an hour (and more!) to fall asleep. Usually she does eventually. But the one thing that I’ve had to be vigialnt about is that she is up by 4:30. Otherwise it messes up her bedtime. So there have been a handful of days that I’ve just gone up and gotten her around 4 when she hasn’t fallen asleep.
    To try to ensure a nap we’ve instituted rules for sleep time. #1: Close your eyes. #2: Quiet time. #3: Go to sleep. I’ll go to her once to remind her about the rules. After that she’s disobeying and gets a consequence. The thing is: Abby has never left her room and for her non-naps she just sings, reads or plays with her stuffed animals (read: quiet time?).

  9. All of these ideas are so helpful, thank you! This week has been great in terms of naps. I think waking Lucy up in the morning has helped a lot. It is so comforting to have everyone’s thoughts on this issue — lots of ideas for the next time I feel stuck! Thanks for being such a great community. :)

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