Once you get used to having that really good nap, it is hard to let it go. I’m not talking about YOU taking a good nap (although doesn’t that sound GLORIOUS!) but rather your little one who takes a blissful 2 hour long nap in the middle of the day. Those 2 hours can be a parent’s respite – a time to finally get through (or to!) the to-do list; or, perhaps, take a nap yourself or recharge another way.
Buuuut….. as much as we love the naps, there is an end point for them. Go ahead, get the tissues – it can be a sad sad day when the last nap is dropped.
How are you supposed to know when that day has come? Let’s find out!
First, we need to do an age check. Children usually drop the nap between 3-4 years of age. But it can happen as early as 2.5.
It is also prudent to think about the natural development of 2-4 year olds. There are HUGE cognitive leaps happening during this time, specifically with language. Your child may be babbling a lot more and their vocabulary may have grown leaps and bounds. These cognitive developments have the chance to disrupt nap time sleep (as I am sure you are well versed in by now!). So before considering dropping the nap, make sure that any sleep disruptions have been happening for longer than 2 weeks.
I honestly can say, for everyone’s sake, that I recommend to hold on to the nap as long as possible…providing the following isn’t also happening.
All is not lost...It can be liberating not to have to rush home for nap or plan your day around the nap schedule.
What Else to Look For
Your child most likely goes down for a great nap during the day, but bedtime has become a battle. Maybe your child has implemented amazing stall tactics or simple cries or refuses bedtime. Maybe this is new – bedtime has typically been easy and enjoyable. A child who goes down easily for a nap but is now protesting bedtime could be ready to drop that nap.
Or, the exact opposite. Maybe your child is refusing a nap during the day about 3 or 4 days of the week. AND, if that is the case, I am also betting they are struggling with bedtime too (assuming you have kept bedtime at the same time). If you have moved your child’s bedtime earlier as a response to them not napping, and they are falling asleep within 5-20 minutes, it is a good sign that they are ready (and have already done so) with dropping the nap.
Third, maybe your schedule dictates that your child drops the nap. This happens a lot. Your child reaches a certain age and are more flexible so your schedule fills up with more things during the day and as a result, your child is not napping.
Bottom line: If your child is no longer taking a nap 3-4 days of the week, it's probably time to drop it.
How to Do It
So, you’ve decided your child is ready to drop the nap.
Implement quiet time for the first six or so weeks to help take the edge off and reduce afternoon meltdowns. Making this change is going to be a shift in your child’s body clock – they are likely not used to being awake for so long and will need help connecting their morning to their afternoon and also to bedtime. This quit time will not be the regular 2 hours that either or you are accustomed to – shoot for about 45 minutes.
Quiet time should be, well, quiet. I typically advise my clients to make their child’s bedroom boring. The bedroom should not be a play room. It is a place where kids go to sleep and to be restored. In my opinion, there is absolutely no screens or loud toys or activities. Their room should have stuffed animals, books, maybe a doll or two. But that is the extent of it. Once you have this established, your child will recognize it as a quiet space.
Also, of note, PLEASE do not use your child’s bedroom as a punishment (anyone else told to “GO TO YOUR ROOM!” when you were little?).
That is not to say that you don’t have to go through any rules or quiet time. In fact, I certainly suggest having quiet time rules. Kids, especially toddlers of this age, CRAVE rules – it makes them feel safe and contained. Sure, they often test the rules, but standing firm and not budging helps them understand the rules and know what to expect.
You will also want to give them their quiet time choices of what they can do during quiet time in their room. This again will contain your child and not give them outright permission to just do what they want. Again, noting that there very well could be some testing here.
I also suggest a timer of some kind. This can be a regular egg timer, a phone timer, an alarm clock, a smart speaker, whatever. Tell your child that you are setting the timer and quiet time is not done until the timer goes off. If they should leave the room
before the timer goes off, calmly take them back to their room and remind them that quiet time is not over until the timer goes off. Most of the time, kids don’t push back on this too much. In fact, it’s possible that they have never had this much freedom! They may crave this and LOVE It! Perhaps quiet time lives on beyond transitional 6 weeks. Whatever works for you, your kiddo, and family!
Quiet Time Rules
With that, here are your basic rules of quiet time:
1. Keep the door closed and stay in your room.
2. You can play with your stuffed animals or read your books (give them their choices).
3. Quiet time is over when the timer goes off. Then you can come out and get me – I will be in the kitchen (I find it helpful to give them an idea of where you will be so they are not wondering nor wandering).
You could add a rule in there about making safe choices, but sometimes kids hear that and will test it… soooo, do with that what you will! I recommend having a video monitor for your child’[s room if you don’t have one already to make sure they are not getting into shenanigans.
It’s best to take the bedtime situation with scenarios, but it is likely your child's bedtime will need to be temporarily changed.
1. Your child takes a nap but is protesting bedtime: Move bedtime back about 30 minutes, possibly to 8 or even 8:30 p.m.
2. Your child falls asleep during quiet time, but that “nap” is shorter than usual: keep bedtime at the regular time.
3. Your child doesn’t nap at all during the day: move bedtime earlier, possibly to 6:30 or 7 p.m.
As a gentle parental reminder, shifting the body clock takes time and effort. It is rare that this kind of shift – dropping the nap – just happens without any kind of hitch. Plan for the best, and expect some bumps. This transition can take anywhere from 4-8 weeks, usually closer to 4-6 weeks before your child is fully acclimated to a no nap schedule. And, while this can initially be a big bummer for parents (you’re losing those quiet 2 hours!!) it can also open up SO MANY more possibilities. It can be liberating not to have to rush home or plan your day around the nap schedule. So, all is not lost!