How to decide if your toddler should stop napping
Ditching the last nap is a big move, so I wanted to give you some tips in case you’re wondering how to decide if your toddler should stop napping.
The decision to stop napping is not one many parents take lightly. Especially if you happen to be home with a newborn as well. And chances are your toddler won’t just stop napping when it’s the right time or come out and tell you they want to give it up.
So just how do you know it’s time, and what should you do if you’re ready?
It’s not always what you think…
I find that most toddlers ready to give up the nap will happily take their afternoon sleep. That’s right, it’s not normally about refusing to nap or suddenly not being tired. Indeed, they may even sleep for two- or three-hours during the day when given the chance. However, the trouble then starts at bedtime. So really, it’s not the nap that causes the trouble. It’s bedtime.
When a child is ready to have less sleep overall, you will find you have a staller on your hands. Your toddler can start delaying bedtime or they start wandering out into the hallway repeatedly, or they’re not sleeping because they’re having a little party in their cot or bed. There may be singing or talking for an hour or more every night. When that starts happening, then it just might be time to make a decision. Yes, most of the time you have a choice in the matter, and this choice is based on what is most important to you. Do you value the day sleep or do early bedtimes rock your boat? Here are two of the most common choices.
Choice one – drop the nap
The first choice is to drop the nap. That means you just stop offering a nap to your toddler and have your child in bed by 6.30 or 7p.m. When you drop the nap, you’ll need to make bedtime earlier for a few weeks. This is until your child’s body gets use to the longer day stretch. This should also stop the long play sessions in the evening, and have your child sleep a good 12 hours+ through the night (as long as they know how).
But if the idea of completely stopping the nap is a horrifying thought (and I get it, if you’ve also got a newborn at home this very thought can strike fear into a Mother’s heart as you wonder how you’ll survive the day without a break from toddler antics), then you can also decide to keep the afternoon nap.
Choice two – a later bedtime
If you keep the nap, then you have to monitor your expectations around what time is really suitable for bed. For some children aged over two and a half, there really isn’t enough time in the day for them to build up the fatigue needed to fall asleep quickly at night. And that’s when you need to have a later bedtime.
For a child who knows how to fall asleep, that sleep should happen within 15 minutes. So, if it’s taking your older toddler longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep pretty much every night (when it never use to), then getting to sleep is hard. And it’s likely they are just not tired enough if nothing else has changed. In this instance, you will have to adjust bedtime accordingly.
This can be a bit of trial and error. So, I recommend you start by moving bedtime 30 minutes later and see if that cuts down on the time it takes to fall asleep. If that doesn’t work, then try moving bedtime an hour later. It’s all about finding the sweet spot to have your child falling asleep in a timely manner.
I’m an avid early bedtime fan (even for my now 12-year old) so we have always ditched the nap earlier rather than have a much later bedtime. But if you want to keep the nap, you can! Just adjust bedtime accordingly.
It can be a tough transition
If you have decided to pull the nap, I’m not going to lie to you. It can be a tough transition.
It’s a big change on a body clock to go from one midday nap to no nap at all. So, prepare yourself for some afternoon crankiness or a meltdown around dinnertime. This is your child’s body adjusting to a reorganisation of sleep. And let’s be realistic, for most of us, 5.30pm is too early for bedtime.
If you push through this, it gets easier. The crankiness is not forever! But it does take 4-6 weeks to change a body clock. So do factor that in.
Cushioning the blow
What you can do to cushion the impact of dropping the nap at home, is to instigate some form of quiet time instead. This quiet time will often happen when the nap would have normally occurred.
Quiet time is simply that, your child, playing quietly, by themselves in their room. The work you put into quiet time is worth it, if not simply because it’s a breather and break for you.
Now, while quiet time is a fabulous idea. It’s not something a child will always pick up straight away. You’ll need to start by showing your child some safe (and quiet) options of things he or she can do in the bedroom. Then set a timer for 30-minutes and allow your child space to play on his or her own. Are you already baulking at the idea? Yes, with most toddlers this can take a bit of encouraging, because as a rule, toddlers don’t like to be playing on their own. They’d much rather be entertained by you.
Keep telling your child about the quiet time rule. How they can stay in their room and do “these things” (you may like to have some options). Set a timer, and when the timer goes, explain that Mum will come and get them again. Most of my clients find it is worth the effort because this quiet independent play can help get your child (and you) through the afternoon without too much of a meltdown.
The trick though, is once you’ve made a choice to drop the nap, you must stick to your decision. Try not to waffle back and forth between one nap and no nap, as that makes it much harder for the body to get into line with what’s happening.
Have you given up the nap? How did it go?
Changes with sleep often require a bit of a push, it’s not always an overnight fix. So if you’d ever like some help with nap transitions or sleep in general (I love helping your children sleep through the night) please book a free initial call to learn more HERE.