10 Ways to Implement a Daily Nap

You are convinced that naptime is an important and vital ingredient to healthy child development  (if not, read All Hail the Nap!), but when you attempt naptime your child refuses to stay in bed.  What do you do?  Read on for 10 suggestions for implementing a daily nap:

  1. Same Nap Time, Same Nap Place: Children will psychologically be more apt to respond well to your implementation of naptime if you are consistent.  Changing you tune constantly is confusing to children.  Children are more willing to do something if they can anticipate it, because the anticipation makes them feel like the activity is their idea.  In order for a child to be able to anticipate their nap, it needs to happen everyday and it helps if naptime is in the same place, with the same blanket and teddy bear.  On busy days, you can cut the nap down to a few minutes, but completely skipping it sends a message of inconsistency, which children will interpret as their and your being out of control.  When children feel out of control, they will be less likely to comply with your request that they nap.  Biologically, children run on a chemical clock, which is why switching time zones is such a problem.  Napping daily at the same time will train your child’s brain (give it a week or two) to release melatonin (sleeping and waking hormone) at a regular time.  If your child’s body feels like napping, they will be more willing to nap because they (or their body) are choosing the activity.
  2. Rest or Nap, But Let Your Child Choose Which is Best:  Your naptime goal is for you and your child to enjoy some type of rest.  Let them choose whether or not they will sleep.   You cannot force your child to sleep, but you can convey the expectation that they can rest independently.  Rest includes time alone in their room playing, reading, talking to themselves, etc…  A rest time does not encompass them constantly asking for you to help them potty, fix toys, read books, change clothing, etc…   Put potty training on “pause” during naptime and use diapers or pull-ups, if necessary.
  3. Special Friend or Toy: Buy a special toy for your child to use only during naptime.  This method will remind your child that naptime is a special time of the day and will give them something to look forward to.  Find a stuff animal or toy that exciting, safe for your child to use alone and does not require any assistance for use.
  4. Rotate Toys: If your child rests instead of sleeps during naptime, rotate toys in their room so that they have opportunities to engage their brain during naptime.  I recommend toys that require deep thought, logical thinking and fine-motor skills.  Puzzles and manipulatives are great option. For examples of wonderful toys that stimulate a child’s mind, instead of simply entertaining, see The Toy Recommendation Guide.
  5. Sleep Clock: Give control to your child over when they will need to be in their room resting with a sleep clock.  Sleep clocks uses colors, pictures or sounds to convey to a child that it is time to sleep or wake up.  Instead of you coming to tell a child that naptime is over, the child can come to you when his clocks says it is time.  I recommend the Kid’s Sleep Classic sleep clock, available here.  You may need to incentivize your child to follow the sleep clock’s lead (see the incentive section below).
  6. Books: Reading stories is an easy fix for most parenting conundrums   Child learn from and respond to stories better than lectures.  If you want to teach your child that naptime is important, then find stories that teach this lesson.  You can use general bedtime books to teach children how to stay in bed or books specifically about naptime.  Back to Bed, Ed and Llama Red Pajama or Naptime are helpful.
  7.  Incentives:  When you begin training your child how to nap, you may experience a great deal of resistance.  If you need to, offer incentives to your child for following her naptime rules.  You can offer extra story time, small treats, stickers, use of a special toy, etc…  Do not physically give your child the incentive during or before naptime, only after they have successfully napped.  Eventually, your child will drop this need for extra motivation and will follow your new naptime routine.
  8. Lead by Example: Model the behavior you want your child to mimic   If your child has trouble slowing down and relaxing independently in the middle of the day it will help them if you do the same (and it will improve your ability to parent at 100% capacity).  Refer to naptime as a family activity.  Older children and adults all get to take a break and relax for a short time.  If everyone is participating, then it will be more likely that your child will want to participate as well.
  9. Ride Out the Phase: Your child’s need for sleep and rest will change from day to day and week to week.  Some days your child will be bouncing off the walls with energy and other days they will be exhausted and irritable.  No matter what, require a naptime.  You can always shorten or lengthen the amount of time napping.  I recommend a minimum of 30 minutes alone everyday and a maximum of 3 hours.
  10. Tough Love: Have you tried it all and still no success? Napping will upset some children.  They will fight to control you and resent you for trying to control them.  Tantrums may erupt at the mention of a nap.  You may find yourself bargaining, begging and cajoling your child to nap.  Remember, you are the parent and your child needs you to play that role.  They crave security and will feel insecure if you cave in too frequently.   If you can stay calm, confident and consistent (3Cs from my discipline article) then your child will eventually begin to trust you and follow your lead.  Do not offer to sleep with your child during naptime or repeatedly return to their room.  Ask them if there is anything else after tucking them into bed and do not return, even when you feel sad on account on their reaction.  Returning to the room and complying with your child’s demands conditions them to believe that they are in charge of you.  This is very unhealthy.  Your child will behave better, feel happier and enjoy life more if they are confident of your love and their position as the child, not the leader in your relationship.  It is sad when your children cry, but you are the expert on your child and you know best.  Show them that you are confident in their ability to learn this new and very important skill.  Happier and calmer days lay ahead if you can power through this difficult phase.  

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Intelligent Nest

Intelligent Nest, LLC strives to empower parents, from all backgrounds, using leading scientific and philosophical theories to help parents transform their homes into an Intelligent Nest. Through examining the bidirectional nature of the parent-child relationship, Intelligent Nest, LLC aims to equip parents with practical, research-based and non-judgmental solutions to inform their parenting decisions.

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