Ah, naptime! A huge blessing to moms of the five and under crowd. Unless of course, your child stops taking a nap and starts fighting it. And then it is the one of the most difficult parts of a mother’s day! (And all the hours in between the missed nap and bedtime spent in frustration because your little one’s body really did need that rest.)
At some point your little ones will stop napping as frequently or as long, and their little bodies are thrown into confusion as their sleep needs change. It’s likely that they’ll resist naptime all together as their desire to be involved and busy battles their physical limitations.
So what do you do? (I mean, besides pull your hair out, hide in the closet and pig out on chocolate? Cuz, really, that’s not how we want things to go down is it?)
In fact I’ve seen a lot of comments on Twitter and Facebook lately by some of my mom friends and contacts, asking why naptime was so hard and how could they get their littles to sleep? Just the the other day, @MckMama said:
To which I replied:
Which led to:
I tried to respond with a tweet, I really did! But I just couldn’t figure out how to contain all my wisdom smart remarks tips in 140 characters!
Over the past almost-ten years (TEN YEARS!) I’ve developed a few of my own nap time “tricks” and they’ve worked really well for us. In fact, I can still use them on my 9 and 6 year olds when I need to! ; )
First and foremost it’s important to note that naptime always works better when their bedtime sleep schedule is in order (meaning they got to bed at the normal time and got up at the normal time – whatever is “normal” for you.) Otherwise your child might become overtired too early (and then be more disagreeable and resistant at naptime) or not early enough (and ditto.)
Second, it’s also important to note that naptime habits begin early. Putting your infants down at the same time will most likely transition into a nap at the same time of day when they grow up to be toddlers. Even if naptime has varied up to this point, its not too late.
Okay, now for the REAL tips and tricks!
Once your kiddos get old enough to start fighting back (sometimes literally) naptime can be a real trial for everyone involved – especially if there are other siblings involved. One of the first things I learned was:
Stop using the word “nap.”
I am not kidding! Just the word nap was enough to send my second and third child into full-on nap warfare. Since that kind of attitude isn’t conducive to getting sleepy, I struck that word from my vocabulary. Really, call it anything else but “nap time.”
Hand in hand with that one:
Make it O.K. to NOT sleep.
Say what?? No, seriously. I realized that if my toddler would at least lay down and rest for a little while, it was better than screaming and fighting for an hour, or getting up and down out of bed for an hour. You can make a child lay down, but you can’t make them actually sleep! Believe me, I wish I could!! So I let that battle go. I told my kids, “you don’t HAVE to sleep. You just have to stay in your bed until quiet time is over.” And I meant it. And they stopped resisting. (And you know what? 95% of the time, they’d fall asleep anyway.) ; )
Sometimes that’s not enough, though, and you need to have a few more tricks, er, tips, up your sleeve.
Use a timer.
Toddlers respond well to clear, unmistakable requests…and they have no concept of time. “Lay down for 30 minutes” has no meaning for a toddler and likewise “Until Mommy says you can get up” is too open ended. (You’ll end up with a bunch of “is it time yet? Can I get up now?”) On the other hand, “You have to stay in bed until the timer ‘dings'” is more tangible – especially if you use the timer at other points in the day and they already have the concept of how the timer works. Laying still listening for the ding, your little one will most likely conk out long before it ever makes a noise. All you have to do is sneak in to quietly disarm the timer so it doesn’t wake them early. Don’t forget!
Confession: I cheat.
Once my toddler started watching me set the timer (one of those little white turn-dial ones) and telling me that I was turning it too far, I upped my game a little bit. That is, I cheat. I admit it. I will set the timer for 30 minutes, get my child laid down and then sneak an extra turn on the timer and set it for an hour or more. Or if they can see it, I’ll leave it at 30 and shortly before the timer goes off, if they are still awake but still quietly laying down, I’ll “check” the timer and give it a sneaky little twist. I know, I know.. one day my children will read this and say “HEY!!”
Put on the music.
How easy is that? Sometimes the simple act of putting on some gentle music helps to set the naptime mood. Once my kids were older (over age 4), I’d let them lay down with a cd walkman and headphones. One caveat: I check on them frequently and ALWAYS remove the headphones once they are asleep. Even with my 9yo. (And that goes for anything else they might have fallen asleep with that presents some kind of danger.) The reason this works though is because of the headphones being attached to the cd player and skipping if the player gets moved.. they have to be “really still” to listen.
Have the older ones lay down, too.
Sometimes my youngest is resistant to laying down simply because he’s afraid he’ll miss out on something important or fun. Having everybody lay down for a bit will put an end to that worry. The reading age kiddos can lay down with a book to read (totally count that as independent reading time for school), not quite readers can lay down with picture books or a soft and quiet toy. If you have older children who don’t need as much naptime as your younger children, they can always get back up after the littlest one falls asleep – yes I’ve asked my older to lay down until the youngest one was asleep… MANY times! Sometimes they really want to nap too, and I’ll let them but I usually cap their nap at a certain point to prevent interfering with bedtime.
Don’t give up when nap time is gone.
Alas, your kids will outgrow naps long before they (or you) are ready for them to leave naps behind. Despite your best efforts they won’t sleep, but no matter how hard they try they can’t make it until bedtime without a meltdown. So what do you do? Well, wave farewell to naptime and say hello to “Mandatory quiet time.” Now that my kids are older (the girls will be 7 and 10 in a couple months, our son will be 5 in November), naptime doesn’t come to visit us very often. It’s a sad thing. (Let’s have a moment of silence for the passing of regular nap time……)
Sometimes it’s obvious that one of my kids needs some quiet downtime, sometimes it’s obvious that MOMMA needs some quiet down time. Either way, I’ll institute what I call “mandatory quiet time.” When Momma calls “Mandatory Quiet Time” all the kids get separated (they only have two bedrooms so one goes to my room) to read, or quietly watch a movie, or quietly play with toys. It really doesn’t matter much what they do as long as a.) they stay in their room until the timer goes off and b.) they are quiet enough to not be heard. I didn’t go with a strict “no talking” rule because my middle child might sing quietly to herself and my son might make sound effects for his cars or dinosaurs. I don’t care, as long as it’s done at a very low volume. We have to pick and choose our battles right? MDT is a wonderful thing when for one reason or another tension is running high and impatience and bickering is running rampant. And you know what?? Sometimes one or more of them will STILL fall asleep!!
Maintain Your Cool
One thing I know OH SO WELL is that if I allow myself to get frustrated (“WHY won’t you SLEEP??”) I’ll pass that off onto my kiddos, naptime won’t happen, and we’ll all just end up frustrated and angry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that, it’s too many to count! Even with all these good tricks up my sleeve there are bad days and sometimes I just simply forget to pull the tricks out of the bag. For whatever reason, I leave my brain behind until it’s too late and we’re all cranky. So take my advice: keep your cool! Take a deep breath, take the pressure off your kiddos to perform on demand, focus on the simpler goal of laying down for a certain amount of time, slack off on the absolute quiet rule if you can, and things are bound to go much smoother. You’re also a lot less likely to be up to your ears in anger and frustration if the “sleep” part never happened. AND you’re going to be in a better mood for it if they DO still have trouble coping at the end of their day because of it. It’s a good thing all around.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been putting kids down for naps for nearly ten years now. Where did the time go?? I’m sure that I have more tips and suggestions buried deep in the recesses of my brain, under layers of math questions, dirty noses and If I haven’t covered a specific age or issue that you’re having with your sweet little angel – what is it? I’ll see if I have any suggestions, and worse case scenario, we’ll ask the audience. ;0)
What about you? Do you have a naptime tip to share that just works wonders for your little sweethearts? Do tell!!