Recently I found parents awakening me from my mid-day nap by asking me if it’s okay that their toddler no longer wants to nap. I don’t want anyone dozing off on this topic, so let me provide some information on toddlers and napping.
First, naps can be quite beneficial. They focus a child’s energy away from active play and more into time for growth. In addition, naps also provide a predictable break in the schedule for parents and caregivers to take care of chores – or just unwind.
While most infants from 6 months to about a year of age will take at least two naps a day, a toddler or preschooler is more apt to take one in the early afternoon and for no more than two hours. Also, I don’t recommend naps past 3 or 4 p.m., if you want your toddler to go to sleep at a reasonable time at night. Most children give up naps between ages 4-5, only to wish for them again as adults.
On the other hand, there are some children who want the naps to end by age 3, a few even by age 2. Why? The main reason is that toddlers and preschoolers are so interested in what’s going on around them they feel that by napping, they may miss out on something. Saying no to the nap is also a way for your toddler to exert their ever growing independence and control of a situation.
So what do I suggest about naps? If there is no quiet-down routine in the middle of their day, your child will not want to nap. Reward your child for doing something quiet even if they don’t want to sleep, such as looking at books while they rest. This will still enable them to use some energy for growing rather than just playing.
If there is no change for the worse in your child’s behavior after they stop napping, particularly in the late afternoon hours, then it’s okay to forgo the afternoon nap. It’s very possible that you will be the one who takes the toll, given this was your mid-afternoon moment of relaxation – and it will now disappear.
Hopefully tips like this will not have you lying awake at night, or during the day, when it comes to figuring out whether or not your child really needs that mid-afternoon nap.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.