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What to do when your toddler drops her nap

June 23, 2011

All parents love nap time. It is essential for kids and for us. So, what do you do when your toddler decides to drop her one and only nap? It can happen for kids aged anywhere from 2.5 years old and up. How do you know when they have actually dropped their nap?

Has she really dropped her nap?
During the course of a week, if your child is awake during nap time more days than not, then s/he is probably on their way to dropping the nap.

My kid is going to sleep sooo late at night!
You might actually want to have your child drop their nap if your child doesn’t fall asleep until after 8 or 9 pm.  That’s what we decided after many long nights with our 3.5 year old Birch, who was chirping all night. He happily took a 2 hour nap from 1-3 pm, but when nighttime came, he wouldn’t fall asleep until 10 or 11 pm. We were going crazy as he popped in and out of his room with increasingly ridiculous requests of an apple, a tissue, the light on… and off and on and….  We lost it and decided to take the bull by the horns.  We reduced his nap from 2 hours by increments of 30 minutes over a course of a couple of weeks until it vanished. My peace and quiet vanished too. That is until I got with it and instituted RESTING TIME.

How resting time saved all of us:
A lot of parents refer to this quiet slice of heaven as either “Resting Time”or “Quiet Time”.  Some kids take to it right away and others don’t…and maybe never do.   It’s like nap time in general- it takes some training, repetition and patience.

Here are some suggestions on how to make “Resting Time” work in your home.

  • Explain it well. This is a whole new concept for them and for most toddlers, not a particularly welcome one. “What? Time by myself? You mean YOU aren’t going to be playing with me every second?”  Show your child what you are going to do during your resting time and ask him what he would like to do for the hour of his resting time.  Help him find the right kind of activities and put them in a pile for him.
  • Set rules. Figure out what rules you want to establish. We had a “no talking” rule- unless he needed help going to the potty. Now that he can go on his own, we have a firm “no talking” rule.  Other parents say “no running, no yelling, no music”, etc.
  • Be positive. Resting time doesn’t work if a child feels like it is a punishment.  Try to tell them how excited you are for your own resting time (which, of course, you are!) and what you plan to do for it.  Tell them how they get to play with their toys all by themselves. This works especially if they have a sibling.
  • Set up special toys for resting time. Sometimes having an out-of-reach basket filled with toys specifically for resting time makes that hour feel special.  You can switch the toys in and out as time goes by.
  • Be consistent. So, this one seems like an axiom of parenting advice in general, but it’s important to remember for resting time too.  Keep the time and location consistent. Once it is a regular part of the routine, they won’t protest. Be patient with them and yourself. The routine will come together and most children start to look forward to resting time. Yes, really.
  • Set a timer. Sometimes it helps everyone if you can set a timer. Your child can watch the time move and know that resting time is half or almost over. It also prevents the inevitable question, “Is resting time over?”
  • Plan for afterward. I like to tell our son what we will do after resting time is over so he has something to look forward to after being quiet and by himself.  It doesn’t have to be anything big: time to read a book together, a “tea party”, a trip to the park, etc.
  • If your child isn’t taking to it….. Try this: find a quiet spot in your house where you can lie down with your reading material and find a spot for your child nearby. Set a timer nearby. Modeling how you enjoy your resting time can help them see it is a positive experience. This can also aid with any separation anxiety.  Once you are both comfortable with resting time, the next step is to move them into a separate room.

A side note: Our son, 1.5 years later (5 years old) still has at least 1 hour or Resting Time each day. He builds legos, reads, draws, but always while listening to an audio book. Sometimes I find him sitting in his chair just looking out his window listening to the audio book. Often he asks to stay in there longer – for up to an 1.5 hours. Yes, it really works!

A note of caution: don’t count on getting your own nap in every day during Resting Time. Somehow our kids seem to know just when we want really want that nap, and decide that Resting Time is caput on that particular day.

****(Take it from me, all of this goes to hell once you go on vacation or visit someone- so lower your expectations while away.)