Have you ever seen the kids sleeping in strollers at the mall or even an amusement park, clearly not bothered by the noise or what is going on around them? Before I became a mother, I assumed getting a child to nap was as simple as giving the child a space to rest. A dozen years and six kids later, I have learned the hard way that it is rarely that simple. Nap time can be a battle between parent and child that leaves you feeling exhausted rather than rested. This leaves parents searching for suggestions to make things go more smoothly, ultimately resulting in more rest for everyone.

Tips for Newborns

It is common for newborns to have their days and nights mixed up. The goal for this age is to help babies sleep more at night and take many short naps in between feedings during the day. Newborns need up to 16 hours of sleep per day, and it’s okay if they rest in their cribs, in the car, or in your arms. You cannot spoil a newborn baby with too many snuggles. Play and interact with your baby during daytime hours and create quiet restful times at night to encourage correct sleep patterns.

Tips for Infants

At 3 months old, babies can sleep five-or-six-hour stretches at night. This is a great time to start introducing a nap schedule. Consistency is key and parents often have success by creating a routine. Turn down the lights, snuggle in the chair, read a book or sing a song, swaddle the baby, and lay them down while still awake but sleepy. Babies learn what to expect by routine and when they start to recognize the bedtime cues, they will begin to relax and prepare for naptime. During this stage, babies typically take two naps per day. Some parents will set their nap schedule by taking note of when the baby wakes up. Two to three hours later, they start their naptime routine, followed by lunch or a midday feeding and playtime. Similarly, the afternoon nap would follow two to three hours after the child wakes up from their morning nap, followed by dinner or an evening feeding, playtime, bath time and bedtime. The bedtime routine should be similar to the pre-naptime routine to create consistency. Once the naptime schedule and routine are established, continue to be consistent and naptime will become a positive experience for both of you.

Tips for Toddlers

Usually between 12 and 18 months, your child will begin to give up their morning nap. While this may worry some parents, it can be freeing. Moving to one long nap in the afternoon can give parents more freedom to explore activities in the morning with their child. Some parents may find that moving the afternoon nap to an earlier time as they make this transition may be easier for the child. If you prefer a later afternoon nap, begin moving the time by 15 minutes until you reach the time that works for you.

Tips for Preschoolers

Most kids will give up naps between the age of 3 and 5 years old. As parents transition out of naps, providing a quiet time to rest is still very important as kids of all ages (and their caregivers) need downtime to recharge. Provide a quiet space either in their bedroom or a comfy chair for them to play quietly, read, listen to music, or watch a favorite show. Get the whole family to participate, including mom and dad. This may be a nap for some, reading a book for others, or drawing or journaling.

Mother cradling her little baby boy
Photo by iStock

Naptime Disruptions and Solutions

  • Vacation – A strange space, a different bed, and a lack of routine can be a big disruption. Try to maintain the nap times and routine as closely as possible. Bring familiar blankets, stuffed animals, and books to create as close to a routine as possible. When you return, go back to the typical routine.
  • Sickness – When the baby doesn’t feel well, the routine can quickly go out the window. Try to create as much balance as possible with your normal routine and make your child comfortable. When your child is back to normal, return to your normal nap routine and drop any new habits that have developed.
  • Busy day – If you have a lot of errands and appointments and you miss your child’s naptime, do your best to give them an opportunity to rest while you are out and also when you get home. Adjust bedtime if needed to allow for additional rest and return to the routine the next day.
  • Car nap – When your child falls asleep in the car, even if it’s only for 15 minutes, chances are they will wake up grouchy and will not take a nap again. Allow a quiet time for your child to rest, even if they aren’t sleeping. For a little one this may be putting them in their bed for a short time with quiet toys. For an older child, provide a quiet activity for them to work on.
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