Toddlerhood is ripe with new challenges and exciting milestones. Unfortunately, it could also potentially summon the end of that sacred hour or two: nap time.
Though many toddlers will try their hand at a nap strike, it doesn't always have to play out this way. I get questions and pleas all the time from parents asking how they can continue to persuade their toddler to take that vital siesta.
And parents are right, it is vital. Not only for our sanity but for the physical and emotional health of our children. We all know as parents that a missed nap in our young children can be a recipe for disaster. Meltdowns, frustrations, and grumpy moods abound when a much-needed nap is refused.
Recently, a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research revealed that these short-term effects on our toddlers' mood and demeanor can actually become lifelong mood- related problems. In other words, we could be raising grumpy toddlers to become grumpy adults if they are chronically deprived of sleep.
So the million-dollar question is: How does one make a 2-year-old take a nap? Well as anyone with a toddler will tell you, making a toddler do anything is nearly impossible. What we can do is know the sleep needs of our child, determine how much sleep she is getting in a 24-hour period, then practice the gentle art of coercion to settle them in for a nap.
Children between the ages of 2 and 4 need anywhere from 11 to 15 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period. This wide range could mean your toddler clocks those hours at night, or if you're fortunate enough to have a toddler on the later end of the spectrum, a midday nap will no doubt be a necessity.
A child who sleeps 11 to 12 hours during the night and seems to power through his day without so much as a wayward glance, may very well have outgrown his naps. All is not lost, however; quiet time is still a great way to recharge for both of you. Set a timer and let your child know that she can look at books, play with cars, or any other quiet activity in her room until that timer goes off. And, yes, by all means offer her a small reward for making quiet time quiet for both of you.
Now, for the resistant napper who definitely needs that midday snooze because she melts down at the drop of a hat without one, set the scene by sticking to a regular routine. Make nap time a mini version of her bedtime ritual. Give her plenty of warning. For instance, say, "After lunch and story time, it's time for your nap." Give her some choices. Which special toy or lovey would she like to take for a nap?
Explain to her the importance of nap time. She will be happier and have more energy to do all the fun things she enjoys. Toddlers really do understand and respond well to our explanations and encouragement.
Of course, it won't be all smooth sailing. Toddlers are notorious for testing their boundaries and flexing their autonomy. They refuse nap time because they can, and they desire some control over their worlds.
Give them choices whenever possible, but be clear that nap time is essential and you're not budging on that one. Praise her when she goes down without much fuss, and greet her with hugs and big smiles when she wakes up.
Above all, remember you are doing the right thing by making sleep a priority. It's not always easy, but persevering through these rough patches will ensure that your child is ready to take on the world with unbridled enthusiasm, curiosity and a genuine smile to boot.