Making Naps Happen

One struggle many parents face is getting their children to take a nap on a regular schedule. Kate Kelly, Managing Editor of American Baby Magazine, has some tips.

One common nap dilemma for parents is that their child won't nap on a regular schedule. "You have to set the schedule," says Kelly. "Don't rely on baby to tell you when he needs a nap because by the time it's really obvious, it may be too late." There is such a thing as being "overtired". A child that is extremely sleepy isn't going to sleep well because they're overstimulated. Do your best to put them down for a nap before they hit this point; it will be easier for your baby to fall asleep.

They key to setting a regular nap schedule is timing. "You're best off [with] two hours after they wake up," says Kelly. Then, plan for an afternoon nap as well.

If your child refuses to sleep, try making up a nap routine that mimics your bed time routine. If you read your son or daughter a book before they go to bed, read a shorter story before nap time. If you sing a lullaby at night, try singing a short tune before nap time as well. These familiar motions help your child recognize that it's time to sleep. "It doesn't have to be as elaborate as bed time," says Kelly.

Some children have no trouble falling asleep, but they can't stay asleep for very long. If your child wakes up after 15 or 20 minutes, they are probably having trouble with self-soothing. Grown-ups wake up a few times while they're sleeping as well; the difference is that they've taught themselves how to fall back asleep immediately. Your child still hasn't developed this skill, so they need to learn.

There are several methods that can help a child learn to soothe themselves back to sleep, including crying it out or calling out to your child to let them know you're there. Whatever method you choose, you have to be consistent. If you stick to it, your child will teach themselves to go back to bed.

Sometimes, napping is all about the location. Many children take great naps at daycare or the babysitters while you're at work, but can't sleep on the weekends at home. Talk to your care provider and find out their napping routine. Maybe they play music before nap time and make sure the room is completely dark. Or, maybe nap time at day care falls at 10:00am and 3:00pm, but at home, you try to get your child to sleep at noon and 4:00pm. Try to sync your schedules and naptime habits with your care provider. This will provide your child with a more consistent routine, making sleeping easier.

Another location problem? Maybe your child only wants to sleep in their car seat while you're running errands. A simple 20 minute nap can wreak havoc on nap schedules. Short of quietly carrying your baby's car seat into the house so they sleep soundly, it's best to plan errands and other car trips around nap time. Try to take car rides only when your baby will be awake. Also, create an environment in the car that isn't conducive to sleeping; play loud music, sing, give your baby toys to entertain them. Try to keep them alert so they don't fall asleep.

In the end, try to remember that every day presents new challenges, especially if you have other children. Try to plan one concrete nap per day, and let the other be a little more fluid. If your child's morning nap happens every day at 10:00am, then let their afternoon nap happen at 3:00pm or 4:00pm, depending on the day's activities.

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By Erin Petrun