It's been almost an hour since you laid her down for a nap and you still hear your 2-year-old singing happily and playing with her dolls.
What's happening? Is your child ready to give up the habit of napping already? Does she even need naps at this stage?
Although younger children usually need a nap in addition to at least 11 hours of sleep at night, the need for sleep varies significantly between individuals, and in the same individual at different times. The average amount of sleep required by 2-year-olds, for example, is nearly 13 hours daily, yet the actual amount of sleep required by one particular child can be as little as 10?or as many as 15 or 16?hours per day.
It's important to keep naps a priority at this stage in your toddler's development. When questions about his nap schedule arise, keep these factors in mind:
Seasonal changes. It's a fact: longer daylight in the summer discourages sleep, whereas winter darkness induces it. Acknowledging seasonal variations in your child's sleeping patterns aids daily planning. During summer heat, encourage late-afternoon naps and save play for the early evening, when the weather is cooler.
Physiological needs. Illness, travel and holidays can disrupt your child's sleep patterns. Adjust your expectations to fit changing circumstances and creatively redesign routines to allow for greater rest with less stress.
Rather than sticking to a strict sleeping schedule, try to make allowances for naps according to your child's physiological needs. For example, if he takes a long nap on some days and other times doesn't sleep at all, establish two regular bedtimes?one for no-nap days and another for the long-nap days.
Lifestyle considerations. If your schedule is occasionally too busy to set time aside for napping, encourage your child to sleep or rest in his car seat, lie down beside you on the couch or curl up with a coloring book. Parents with hectic schedules may prefer that their children take naps later in the day with bedtime a bit later, too. That allows more family time before the kids go to bed?a routine that's especially appreciated by parents employed full-time outside the home. Home-based working parents, on the other hand, often encourage after-lunch naps and early bedtimes.
By watching both your child and the clock, you'll be able to time naps appropriately. Observe your child for obvious signs of fatigue: fussiness and irritability; physical awkwardness (falling down and bumping into things); quarreling, whining and defiant behavior; and intense spurts of physical and mental activity.
Restful environments. Children cannot be forced to sleep, although a quiet environment definitely aids their ability to rest. Dim lighting and soothing music can work wonders with even the most sleep-resistant kids.
Although most children eventually outgrow their need for regularly scheduled naps, you can begin now to make midday rest breaks a family habit. Providing for adequate rest periods during the day relieves tension and gives your child the energy necessary to tackle the many new challenges of growing older and stronger.
Health writer and mother of four
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1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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