Transitioning your toddler from nap to "Quiet Time"
There will come a time (I know, it's heartbreaking) when your child will be ready to cut their nap. This is one of the hardest transitions for families, and I've got some strategies to make the process easier, once you decide the time has come.
My youngest cut her nap at 2.5 years of age, but I've also known 4 year olds to still enjoy their nap without disrupting night sleep. It's important to understand that kids age 3+ need 12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. They can get that sleep with 10 hours at night and a 2 hour nap, or just sleeping 12 solid hours at night. Many times clients come to me and the nap is clearly disrupting night quality sleep and kids are OVER-tired which affects behavior, attention, patience and development.
Signs It's Time
Since each child and family is different, it's hard to pin down a specific age that I recommend cutting the nap. I typically encourage clients to shift their schedule if one or two of the following situations are causing some compromises in quality of life for your family.
Your child stops napping at nap time, then falls asleep in their spaghetti at dinner.
They begin talking/playing in their crib for 30-40 min., then fall asleep for a long nap and bedtime is a disaster because they are not tired.
Your child is waking VERY early in the morning, but still taking a 2-3 hour nap.
When you try to wake them up from nap they are grumpy all afternoon.
Bedtime routine takes hours, requires Mother Theresa-like levels of patience, and finally results in your child falling asleep at 10pm (with you unconscious on the floor next to them).
Reasons to keep a nap
Your routine, productivity, and sanity depend on a break during the day and you're fine with a late (8-9pm) bedtime.
Your family struggles to do an early bedtime and you start your day early too.
Your child is cooperative for routines for both nap time and bedtime, and goes to sleep easily.
When you see the signs and decide it's time to let go of the nap, these tips will help you. Know that it will take about a week for everyone to transition to this new routine, and then you can look forward to the calm evenings, a return to adult activities and maybe even a date night or two (your babysitter can just show up after your little one is snoozing at 7pm).
Cold Turkey - when you see the signs and decide it's time to cut the nap, make the shift and stick with it. Going back and forth between nap one day and then no nap will lead to a confused body clock and a grumpy kiddo at both nap time and bedtime.
Quiet Time Box - plan for your child to have something independent to do so that you can still get a break - independent, quiet time is important for the brain. Create a box of activities that they can play with during this time on their own. Beading projects, Water Wow, re-usable sticker books, puzzles, etc. are good ideas because they don't require parent supervision or typically lead to too much property damage.
Keep Them Awake, alert, and having fun during their typical nap time. In the first few days without a nap, you'll want to re-alert them with music, adventure, sensory play so that their body clock learns to keep them awake during this time. Snacks, hydration, and movement are key.
Shift Bedtime earlier so that your little one can get 12 solid hours of sleep at night once the nap is gone. You'll notice they may even sleep 13 hours in the first few days/weeks of cutting nap because they accumulated a little sleep debt in the weeks leading up to this. That's what spending 2 hours at bedtime asking for water, potty, backrubs, 47 stuffed animals and one last book will do for a kid! Exhausting!!
This means if your child typically wakes at 6am, you need to do routine and have them in bed by 6pm. IF they usually wake at 7:30, that's the time for lights out now.
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