How to Get Your Child to Take a Nap

As children age, so do their nap needs. The transitional periods can sometimes prove challenging. (Photo: FamVeld/Shutterstock).

At different stages of their lives, babies, toddlers and preschoolers all need daytime sleep to help them function best. Getting adequate sleep is important for development and growth, both physical and mental.

The rule of thumb for naps is simple: Until about 5 months of age, babies will usually take three naps a day. Between 6 months and 18 months, they’ll take two naps a day. Sometime between 18 months and 2 years (sometimes even earlier), they’ll drop off to one nap a day. And somewhere between the ages of 2 and 4, kids will stop napping altogether.

Transitioning from three to two to one to no naps isn’t easy. There’s usually an in-between period when children aren’t really ready for a nap but are too tired without one. So what do you do if your toddler is resisting his nap? Or if you’re the parent of a toddler who refuses to nap at all? Here are a few tips to help you smooth the transition to fewer naps or to help you get your toddler napping in the first place.

1. Stick to a Routine

If your child knows that his afternoon nap always happens after lunch or after you read him a few books, for instance, then he’ll know what to expect and will be less prone to fight you on it. In a world where very little is in their control, young kids function best when they know what to expect next and when they can be in charge of something in their own little worlds. If you stick to naptime at the same time in the same place every day, your child will come to find comfort in the routine.

2. Give Him Some Good Quality Stimulation and Then Some Quiet Time

Just after he wakes up in the morning, take your baby outside for some stimulation — run around the backyard or just take a short walk. Then, come back inside and start to wind down before naptime. Just like adults, toddlers need to slow down before they sleep. Before they take a nap, read them a couple of books, give them a warm drink or put on some soft music. Try to avoid the TV, because too much screen time can prevent them from drifting off to sleep.

3. Don’t Miss the Ideal Nap Window

Watch your toddler for signs that he is tired and ready for sleep. There are the obvious ones like yawning and rubbing of eyes, and the less obvious ones like quieting down and slowing the level of activity. Once a child is overtired (i.e., fussy and cranky), falling asleep will be much more difficult than if you hit the napping sweet spot. Usually, for very young babies, this happens about two hours after they wake up, but it can vary. Watch your child for his cues and try putting him down for a nap while he is drowsy but not overtired.

4. Move Bedtime Earlier

Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” suggests temporarily making bedtime a little earlier to ensure that your child is getting enough sleep at night. Then he may only need one nap during the day as opposed to two. This also helps prevent late afternoon crankiness.

Protecting your children’s sleep will help them be the best version of themselves, and will in turn make you a less stressed-out parent. As Weissbluth puts it: “Missing a nap here or there will probably cause no harm. But if this becomes a habit, you can expect your child to lag further and further behind in his sleep and become increasingly difficult to handle in this overfatigued state.”