Naps can be absolutely essential for growing toddlers. (They’re a bit of a nice break for grownups, too.) But there will come a point where your child outgrows their naps. Leaving naps behind cold turkey can be challenging, so many pediatricians and healthcare providers recommend weaning your child off their nap to maximize success (and minimize crankiness).
There are several strategies that can help parents manage this transition. But it’s critical that parents remain flexible and observant–ensuring that you wean your child off of nap time in a way that’s healthy and constructive.
Why Are Naps Important in the First Place?
Before your toddler leaves naps behind, it’s important to understand why napping happens in the first place. A nap is the body’s natural way of conserving energy. This is especially important for babies and young children, who are growing at an extraordinary rate. Growth takes a huge amount of energy–so your kids are likely going to eat a ton and nap a lot, especially during growth spurts.
As they age, the morning nap will typically fall away naturally. This means the afternoon nap becomes the final point of transition. Most children won’t stop napping before the age of three, though there is plenty of variation (and starts and stops) in there–kids are all unique, and that’s certainly true when it comes to napping, too.
If you have questions or concerns about your toddler’s nap, be sure to talk to your pediatrician to get individualized answers.
Strategies for Weaning Your Child Off Their Nap
Your child may insist without qualms or quibbles that they are ready to eliminate their nap entirely. And it’s not like they’re lying to you. But, as any parent likely knows, toddlers aren’t exactly experienced at calibrating their expectations.
In other words, getting rid of your toddler’s nap by going cold turkey can ultimately be disruptive. That’s why many parents favor a gradual approach–and these strategies for weaning your child off their nap may help.
Match Your Nap Time to Daycare Nap Time
When it comes to nap times, consistency is key. So if your toddler goes to daycare, make sure you’re matching your nap time with the daycare’s nap time. This goes both for when the naps start and for their duration. Talk to your daycare provider about nap policies and how you can best work together to achieve your desired nap-free results.
Slowly Decrease the Nap Time
Most providers recommend a 90 minute nap time for older toddlers who still require naps. As your child starts to leave naps behind, you can start slowly decreasing the nap times. So, bump it down to 75 minutes one week, 60 the next, and so on. If you get down to 15-20 minute naps and your toddler doesn’t seem quite ready to leave them behind entirely, you can try napping on alternate days.
This also gives you a chance to adjust your schedule–as your nice midday break gets slowly smaller and starts to disappear altogether. It’s important to recognize that this is a transition for parents as well. Weaning your child off their nap will impact parents, too!
Avoid Sleepy Afternoon Activities
If you’re trying to wean your child off of naps, it’s important not to put them in a position where naps are unavoidable. For example, even adults get sleepy after a heavy lunch or strenuous activity–especially in the afternoon. So when your toddler is sleeping like this, try to avoid long car drives or overly serious documentaries or singing lullabies.
If your kiddos are sleepy, try to keep them engaged and excited–at least until the weaning process is finished.
Most adults like a certain amount of routine. And to a certain extent so does your toddler. But it’s important to stay flexible–so you aren’t building your entire day around naps. Here are a few tips:
Some kids take to the elimination of naps without a problem. For others, it’s a struggle. But most children will oscillate between the two. Be ready to adapt as you go, depending on your child’s mood and sleep needs.
Have a basic outline of your weaning schedule, but remember that your kids still need to be kids. Some days they might need a little extra sleep, while others they’ll need less.
Watch your toddler for signs of sleepiness. Are they extra cranky? Are they constantly overtired? If weaning doesn’t go well, it’s okay to delay and try again in a few months.
Sleep is Important and Every Child is Different
In most cases, you’ll be able to tell what your child needs from their behavior. If they’re having trouble falling asleep at night, that might mean that it’s time to let the afternoon nap go. However, if your child is under the age of 7, there’s no harm in continuing to nap so long as they still fall asleep at night just fine.
Most kids will naturally stop napping by age 3 or 4. But every child is unique. To get personalized advice on how your child naps, contact us in our Chicago or Northbrook offices to schedule a consultation with a pediatrician.