“Does your toddler still nap?” I get asked this question on a fairly regular basis. The answer is a firm yes. My son needs a nap so desperately that he wouldn’t be able to function without it! By the time 1 p.m. rolls around, he’s cranky and irrational and rough with his baby brother. He knows it, too, and sometimes wails, “I need a nap!” I’m more than happy to give him one; in fact, he has no choice in the matter.
I depend on that time for my own survival. One o’clock signifies a release from motherly duties for a short while at least, and the opportunity to sleep myself! I nurse the baby, hang out with him till he’s tired, then the entire house falls into a state of total silence. The door is locked, the cell phone turned off, curtains pulled. The most important thing in my life at that moment is ensuring all three of us can sleep; emergency phone calls can wait!
There seems to be an expectation that toddlers decide when they’re ready to stop napping and parents go along with it. I have a different approach to parenting. As the parent, I decide when nap time is, and I will decide when it ends. This approach doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but it’s only been hugely beneficial for my family. There are days that my son fights his nap, crying and complaining and getting out of bed repeatedly, but I can count on one hand how many times that has happened. Inevitably, he falls asleep and stays down for two or three hours, worn out from his battle and needing rest more than ever! The more he fights, the more impossible it is for him to get up and be pleasant.
I can always trace his reluctance to sleep back to something, whether it’s an over-stimulating morning, getting to bed later than usual, too much sugar, a brief sleep in the car, excitement about a post-nap event, or too much noise outside. As a result, I’ve created rules. Our plans for every single day revolve around his nap time and ensuring he gets down at one o’clock on the dot. We turn down all social invitations if they occur in the early afternoon. I leave play dates early enough to feed him lunch and get him down to bed. I don’t tell him anything that might excite him prior to the nap, nor do I ever give him a new toy within two hours of napping. There was only one day that he absolutely refused to sleep, and it was due to a new soccer ball, which I stupidly showed him at 12:30 p.m.! Lesson learned 🙂
So I was quite interested by an article I saw on Parentables.com called “Why Toddlers Really, Really, Really Need a Nap.” (I think they really mean what they’re saying!) A study compared the emotional responses of nap-deprived toddlers and well-rested toddlers, and indicated that the nap-deprived toddlers were anxious and negative while engaging in a series of puzzle activities. Conclusion? “This study shows insufficient sleep in the form of missing a nap taxes the way toddlers express different feelings, and, over time, may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems.”
I do believe that many kids nowadays are chronically sleep-deprived, and with sleep being so fundamental to overall health and child development, I think it’s a serious problem. I’m often told I’m “lucky” for having a toddler who sleeps twelve hours a night, plus two hours each afternoon, yet that sure didn’t happen on its own. He needed to be trained! He needed – and still does need – total commitment to that schedule. It’s 100% predictable and 100% enforced, and it’s the only thing he knows. As a result, he’s a healthy, happy, hilarious little guy who rarely has emotional meltdowns because he rarely gets over-tired.
Of course, every day is a new experience; I’ve never had a toddler before, so I’m in training, too! The plan is for him to continue napping as long as he will, but when he starts refusing to and functions well without it, I’m okay with enforcing “quiet time” – alone in his room, door shut, absolute silence, reading books in his crib for an hour each afternoon. I know this works because I was a product of this routine, as were my three siblings, and several others I’ve met. It just takes supreme consistency and patience on the part of the parent, and I’m willing to do that for the sake of my own nap! I need it as much as he does!