Monday, March 29, 2010

Nap Time?

The Question:
Hi Jane!

I am a stay at home mother with three young children (7,4, & 2). I have a question! We are transitioning our 2 year old son to sleeping in a toddler bed. As with our other children, the change at night has not been difficult. There are all those wonderful bed time cues, not to mention the darkness, to make it clear that this is bedtime. When it comes to nap time, however, it has always been a struggle to make the change with each of our kids when they were the right age. Instead of napping our son gets out of bed and wanders around the room getting in to things. There aren't toys in the room, just the beds and dressers, so there isn't much exciting to distract him, but still he wanders and plays instead of sleeping.

Of course, when he napped in the crib he would often play happily for a while before sleeping also, but he did sleep within a reasonable amount of time. Now he is putting off sleep for so long that I become uncertain whether to move him back into his crib for his nap (but that might teach him to play every day until the 'real' nap time arrived) or just ride it out even though some days that means a skipped nap.

He has always been a really easy going kid, and he does not usually fight sleeping (unlike some other children I've had!). He is a sweet boy, such a joy to be raising. I just need some ideas of how to help him adjust to nap time in a toddler bed.

Do you have any ideas or advice for how I might teach him that nap time is for sleeping, even when he is in a bed that he can get out of?

Thank you!

The Answer:

Dear Becca,
Good question! I think the thing that makes nap time tricky, is that as children grow older, their sleep needs change. They seem to be in a good routine and then one day, they just won't go to sleep. The two suggestions I have for you are 1) go ahead and put him in his crib for nap time. He'll learn that it's this bed for naps and this bed for nighttime. 2) put some books and quiet toys in with him and let him play (as you have been) til he falls asleep. But if, after 45 minutes or so, he hasn't fallen asleep, then he really isn't tired. Just plan on an earlier bedtime.

It sounds like he's a wonderful little boy and you're a great mother. I love how you're really tuned in to him and care about his feelings. I think parents run into the biggest sleep problems when they force children to cater to their routine instead of figuring out what works best for their child's changing needs.

With Love,



  1. I keep my kids in a crib as LONG as possible to stave off these troubles. Once they can climb out by themselves, then I move them to a toddler bed. With some of my more precocious children, that's been around 18 months! Others have stayed in that crib, sleeping nicely for me for much longer.

    I think Jane's advice is great. If he'll go in a crib for naps, do it. If not, then try to help him develop a new routine for naps. Will he go down better if you lie beside him and read him some stories first? Is he more likely to sleep if you lie him down on your bed and lie beside him for a few minutes?

    One of my children absolutely resisted naps at age two but was a beast without them. The only way we could get him to sleep was to have him sit on our rocking chair and watch "Thomas the Train Engine" every afternoon. He loved that show and as soon as he settled in to watch, he'd conk out!

    In any case, an earlier bedtime is always an option if he stops napping altogether.

    Good luck!

  2. I have a friend whose children always fell asleep in the car, and another's whose kids always fell asleep in the stroller on walks. They would cater the nap times around walks and errands, and the kids would stay asleep for the duration of nap time afterwards!

  3. I found a great technique for transitioning into the toddler bed. It takes a few days to a week, but when it is done I can just put them down, walk out and not worry again. The first day I sit right by thier bed while they fall asleep. If they start to get up I will gently lay them back down and say it is time for bed, if they do it any more than once or twice stop telling them it is time to sleep and just gently lay them back down again without saying anything. Pretty soon they get the picture that it is time for bed. Once they have mastered going to sleep with me right by them I move to sit right by the door and do the same thing. When their little heads would pop up I would just say "lay down it's time for bed". If you need to go lay them back down again, but I have found since they are already used to going to sleep with me there they pretty much know they can't get up or I will just put them back down. Once they master you being at the door, I stand right outside the door and peek my head in every few minutes and give reminders if they need it. I can't tell you how many people have been amazed at how well my kids go to sleep. No fighting and they zonk right out! I hope this helps!

  4. I am a sleep nazi! I feel really strongly about sleep. I believe firmly that we need to do everything in our power to make sure our kids get all the rest that they need. I really liked the book, "Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child" by David Weissbluth. I haven't read anything about 2 year olds, bc a friend is borrowing it, and my 2 year old is still in her crib, so we haven't needed to change anything yet.

    My daughter is a very very very independent sleeper. She must be absolutely alone in order to fall asleep. The nights that we have had to share a hotel room with her were absolute torture. Destenee's plan sounds great, but I think my daughter would be so excited to have someone in her room that she would never fall asleep!

    I have given a lot of thought to the transition from crib to toddler bed, and have a loose game plan in my head for when we reach that point (only after she is either potty-trained or climbs out of her crib). I will make a big deal about her new big girl bed, how exciting it is, what a big girl she is now, etc. But I will still leave her crib in her room as well. I will tell her that if she wants to sleep in her big girl bed, she has to stay in it when mommy leaves the room, and if she gets out, then she will have to sleep in the baby crib instead. And I will enforce it. And hopefully she doesn't hurt herself trying to climb out!

    For the original question, I would suggest playing around with the time that you put him down. Maybe his little body clock is changing (or maybe its from daylight savings?). Try 30 mins earlier, and see if that helps. I would also suggest wearing him out as much as possible in the mornings. Run around in the backyard or at the park, play tag in the house, just have a crazy busy morning. Have a huge lunch, and then when nap time is approaching, switch gears to calm and soothing. When he is settled down and laying in his bed, have a good talk with him about how he needs to have a rest in his big boy bed. How happy it makes mommy when he stays in his bed, etc. Possibly even bribe him with a treat if he has a good rest. Then reward and praise like crazy when he finally does it.

    I just think that 2 year olds still need naps, so don't give up til you find something that works! Those are my 2 cents, good luck!

  5. My 2yo son has just the opposite problem! He goes into his toddler bed fine for naps, but he often comes out of his room in the evening if we haven't made sure he is good and tired.

    With my other kids though (he is #4), even when they outgrow their naps, I do make sure they stay in their room for "quiet time." This takes the pressure off of them going to sleep. I do allow them a few toys. More often than not at the beginning, they do go to sleep eventually. At some point they stay awake longer or the whole time. there are still days, though, that my 4yo decides to nap for quiet time.

    Two other things to try: 1. Play with the time. Maybe you're trying to do nap before he is really tired. 2. Monitor TV watching vs. active play time. On days where I have tons to do, I used to let my kids watch way too much TV (about once a week). I now have a very good reason to monitor TV time because if my son watches too much, he will not settle down for sleep, day or night.

    Good luck!

  6. I agree with Smendrick. If I use the word 'nap' at ALL, my son will fight it to the death. But as long as we call it 'rest time', he's totally fine with it. He's allowed to stay awake and read, but he has to stay in bed to do it. We set a time limit of an hour and a half so that he knows there is an end to it. And every time, without fail, he's asleep within 10 minutes.

    When he no longer felt that we were forcing it on him, he stopped fighting it. I mean, you can't argue with something that's not there, right?

    Part of the toddler bed issue is that it's a new-found freedom for them. They discover that they can get in and out COMPLETELY unassisted, and it's in their toddler nature to explore that for a while.

    Good luck!

  7. I lay down with my toddler until he falls asleep. I've also used music as a cue "you don't have to nap, but you need to lay here and listen to this lovely music" and often that works - especially if you play the same thing at bedtime and create a sleep association. With my oldest son, we just gave up on naps shortly after he turned two and put him to bed at 6pm instead (he'd sleep until after 7 the next morning). He put up such a resistance and would fall asleep so late in the day and then stay up late, that we found that compromise to work best for us.


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