Setting a toddler nap time
January 26, 2010 5:45 AM   Subscribe

How did you get your toddler to take a nap at a somewhat consistent time?
posted by drezdn to Human Relations (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For me, and my 20 month old, it's a function of routine.

We generally follow the daycare schedule on the weekends or holidays when we're all home. So around 11, we have lunch and then put her down for a nap.

That way, she's resting at a time she's used to resting, with a full belly. (That is a big help.)

The other thing that helps is that she is generally a good sleeper and has never had any problems sleeping or having quiet rest time.

Remember that children will usually not nap as frequently or as long as they grow older.

Is there something specific you're dealing with?
posted by FergieBelle at 5:58 AM on January 26, 2010

We're all about routine. A snack, two stories, then time to nap. That's always worked fine for us.

My sister-in-law taught her kids their numbers as soon as she could, and put digital clocks in their rooms. She told them that when the first number was "2" is was nap time, and they couldn't come out of their rooms until the first number was "4." She had a lot of success with that. I think transferring authority to the impersonal clock made it less of a struggle. "Hey, it's not me--it's the clock."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:00 AM on January 26, 2010

We just established a routine and stuck with it. A drink of warm milk, a couple of storybooks, some quiet cuddling and then down for a snooze. It didn't work every time, and the first while was pretty rotten, but he eventually got with the program.

He would sometimes cry for a couple of minutes if he was feeling especially oppressed. Your ability to withstand that sound may differ from ours. We would let him try and settle himself down within reason, but there were certainly times where we "rescued" him because it seemed like he was just building up a good head of steam, as opposed to simply fighting his sleepiness.

I don't think there's a magic answer, though. Every kid is different. I do think most kids like routines.
posted by joelhunt at 6:05 AM on January 26, 2010

So, routines, then?
posted by joelhunt at 6:05 AM on January 26, 2010

Pretty much 'routine' is the answer... but in the end some kids are nappers and some are not.
posted by cowmix at 6:13 AM on January 26, 2010

As cowmix says: some kids are just not nappers. When mine was a toddler, "nap" wasn't even a word. So don't get exasperated if yours is not a napper.
posted by The Deej at 6:17 AM on January 26, 2010

Agreed. Routines (with a plus/minus 1 hour variance). My daughter has settled into a noon-ish nap. That nap can last 1.5 to 3 hours. Whenever we have had to break the routine the outcome was not great. In my opinion, it is much more about the child's sleep cycle than trying to set a schedule for them.

Our routine, as we get closer to 12 is lunch with a glass of milk, a book --or-- quiet playtime painting or coloring --or-- a bit of Sesame Street. Combined, these are the formula to send her to into the arms of morpheus.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:23 AM on January 26, 2010

Tied in with routine: I read the book “Healty Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth and one of the ideas that really stuck with me (and worked for my kids) was protecting the naptime. That is, as much as you possiby can, plan to be home every day at naptime. Falling asleep in a carseat or a stroller is not the same as sleeping in bed because it’s poor quality sleep. It’s difficult to do this sometimes; it means turning down some invites, squeezing errands around naps, etc, but it’s worth it if you want a predictable sleeper. Also, be vigilant to your child’s sleepy cues. Some kids fight naps but they still give off sleepy cues if you’re paying attention.

I really recommend reading that book. I didn’t agree with everything in it, but it taught me a LOT about how much sleep kids actually need.
posted by yawper at 6:36 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

For us the routine is good, and included is a nap blanket - a blanket (or other lovey, although for us it was a blanket) that only shows up at nap time. Seemed to help.

The other thing that helped for us was a variant on 'cry it out'. If your child knows that if he/she makes a big enough (or long enough) ruckus they'll be 'rewarded' with no nap, well, they are going to keep making the ruckus. If (hard as it is on you, I know!) they know that once it is naptime it is naptime, and they are going to be in there for a concentrated period of time no matter the ruckus, they stop fighting it so much. Ours did, anyway. YTMV.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:45 AM on January 26, 2010

If your problem is that your toddler naps, but not at the same time every day, a routine is your best bet, as long as both the timing and the routine are based on what what works for your specific child. Sleep patterns, temperaments and sleep cues are sadly beyond a parent's control. And even then, it isn't a guarantee. Kids are frustratingly unscientific and individualistic in their behaviors.

If your problem is that your toddler doesn't nap at all, or at least not regularly, you might be out of luck. My oldest two kids both stopped napping by around 15 months. I fought the good fight and lost. So I gave up and instead instituted quiet time instead. They didn't have to sleep (and almost never did), but they did have to stay in their rooms and play quietly or look at books for an hour or two. It gave them some down time to recharge and gave me a much-needed break.
posted by Dojie at 7:09 AM on January 26, 2010

Along the same line as the numbers trick, an acquaintance uses a 'toddler clock' that is set to have a blue lighted background at night/asleep time and a yellow background when it's okay to get out of bed. Again, it's not you, the clock just says it's time to be in bed right now!
posted by heyforfour at 7:46 AM on January 26, 2010

Routine. Always. Do not bend from the routine, even in the event of the apocalypse, naptime must be at the same time.

To establish the routine, you've got to go through a few difficult weeks of enforcing "Nap Time" even if the child is not actually asleep. Do not allow the child to play beyond quietly playing in their crib/bed. Under no circumstances should the child leave their room. Also: do not allow "unscheduled" naps if you can help it. If the child won't nap, but falls asleep later, try and wake them up after a short period of time. Painful, yes, but it is truly effective in establishing a nap routine.

The routine needs to be the same every. single. day. If after two weeks or so, this is still total fail, accept that your toddler may have already outgrown nap. In that case, try to keep naptime out of the equation entirely so that they develop a consistent "sleeping only at night" schedule. I totally agree with the idea of protecting the naptime. I've made sure to schedule daily activities around the naptime of every toddler I've cared for with extreme vigilance, no matter what inconveniences it may cause me. Falling asleep in a stroller or the car seat is fine, but that needs to happen on the way home rather than as a subsitute for the appointed nap.

And yes, try crying it out a few times. Some kids will just keep crying and you have to give up, but some will put themselves to sleep out of exhaustion or the realization that this isn't getting the intended result. I wait five minutes. If the child is still crying after five minutes, naptime isn't going to happen. Five minutes isn't so long that the child is going to get traumatized by being left alone, but long enough that a child who was crying solely for attention will usually get bored.

A lot of kids still need naps, but refuse to take them, and this is really the toughest. Sometimes a day or two of no-nap will be enough to exhaust them into napping on the third day, but again in those cases, you have to be firm in NO. NAP. NO. HOW.

I shouldn't say any more as it's "nap time" around here and I truly, truly fear jinxing it. As all childcare givers/parents know: The first rule of a successful naptime is you DO NOT TALK ABOUT NAPTIME.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:12 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

After a certain age with all of ours, we called it Quiet Time. They could bring a few books or a quiet toy (nothing electronic) but they had to be in the bed and quiet for the whole time. We made it very clear that quiet time was as much for mommy and daddy as it was for them, which made a very handy answer for, "But I'm not tired." Most of the time they fell asleep anyway.

Another technique is to enourage them to need a nap. I knew pretty much how much activity my kids could handle at their current ages, so I would schedule an actvity they enjoy (walk, trike ride, etc.) that went about 10-20% longer than their comfort zone. Nothing that would hurt them, of course, but they'd sure be ready for a snack and some quiet time when they got home. This is a very useful technique for traveling with them since they are by definition out of their routine and also overstimulated. My wife and I jokingly called this the "death march."
posted by cross_impact at 10:45 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Routine, yes. With a caveat: once settled into a routine, it may work for a week, perhaps a month -- but eventually it will stop working, and they'll be tired too soon, or not tired enough. If a toddler that's napping regularly (five days or more) suddenly seems to want an earlier or later naptime, adjust the schedule accordingly. You're essentially chasing short periods of regular naptime, not establishing a schedule that will last for months at a time.
posted by davejay at 1:12 PM on January 26, 2010

Yup, just to echo everyone else: a routine. As a baby, he had the most annoying nap habits. He would take several thirty minute naps. At about nine months, I'd had enough and I stayed home with him for several days (my semi-part time work is pretty flexible) to work on extending his naps based on stuff from No Cry Sleep Solution. It worked like a charm and he started taking two longer naps.

Fast forward to today. He now takes one nap that we've recently had to shorten to 90 or he deals with insomnia during the night. His "nap time" is a range of times: I put him down anywhere from 11:30 to 1:00 based on how he seems to be doing. Sometimes he eats lunch before his nap; other times he eats when he wakes up. But when it's nap time, I give him his paci and we sit and read for a few minutes. He often passes out while we're reading. If not, I'll sing to him for a couple of minutes and that usually does the trick.

Even though we have a routine, he's also learned the trick of sleeping anywhere. Today he slept for two hours in the stroller while we ate lunch and walked around outside. (Last month he took his full nap at Disneyland!) His body seems to have learned when it's time to sleep and if we're out, he usually just falls asleep when he needs it.

I hope that didn't sound like bragging. Honestly, I don't know if it's anything we've done--it may just be his temperament. But the consensus in this thread seems to be that routine is the way to go and I just wanted to chime in.
posted by wallaby at 4:34 PM on January 26, 2010

Try an earlier nap. Once they're visibly sleepy they're often TOO sleepy or cranky to be soothed to sleep.

Your routine doesn't have to be long, I usually do crib or bed--special friend--lights out--kiss so that if for whatever reason snack doesn't happen normally they can still nap.

If you need quiet time, make sure you get it even if your toddler isn't sleeping.

Put them in their crib and insist that they stay there. While they're getting used to it, stay in the same room reading or doing whatever. Put books and loved mellow toys with them. Dim the lights.Don't talk to them, reason with them, argue with them, whatever. Be quiet! If they talk to you, look at them and gently say "shhh, goodnight".

Once they figure out that they should be relatively quiet and play by themselves, they'll either do so, or they'll fall asleep. If they freak, well, use your judgment but I find that responding to freak-outs tends to encourage freak-outs, whereas being firm, calm, and clear about what you expect tends to encourage calm and cooperative toddlers. Screaming, yelling, whining tends to fade very quickly once they understand that you mean business. Kids this age don't manipulate consciously, but they do experiment to see what works and if yelling works, they'll do it.

I used to watch one little boy who screamed the first day, played and chatted quietly with his toys the next day, and slept like a rock from then on. My nephew was cranky about it the first few days; after he got used to it he'd ask to have quiet time even though he wouldn't nap!
posted by kathrineg at 12:50 AM on January 27, 2010

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