Naps for my now almost 3-year-old son used to be fairly easy when he was still sleeping in his crib. There wasn’t much to do in a crib but sleep, so when I put him down it wouldn’t usually take too long for him to go to sleep. Once we transitioned to the toddler bed (and eventually to his twin bed), things got interesting. Parker was suddenly coming out of his room multiple times or playing in his room for an hour or more (and subsequently trashing his room) before falling asleep. It was so frustrating! We tried multiple things that worked to varying degrees, but only recently did I discover what seemed to be the secret to a good nap.
I was actually trying to figure out what I needed to do to get Parker to sit still. As you may have noticed in my previous blog posts, that’s been our biggest parenting challenge as of late. In my research, one of the consistent things I read was that a toddler cannot be expected to sit still if he hasn’t been also given an equal opportunity to move (here’s a post I found from a pediatric occupational therapist that discusses this concept most thoroughly). That made sense. It didn’t take me long to apply this same concept to sleeping and reach the conclusion that a child cannot be expected to sleep if he isn’t tired. Obvious, I know, but sometimes I think things can be so obvious that we completely miss them. It couldn’t be that simple, could it? Um, yes.
So how does this translate in real life? I often like to start our mornings with quiet indoor play, which is fine, but I’ve found it’s crucial to make sure I get Parker outdoors and active before nap time. Not only does this get him the exercise he needs to sleep well, it also keeps him from acting up out of boredom. Sometimes he’ll say he doesn’t want to go outside, but I know better now. I’ve found that mellow outdoor play is still more effective at managing Parker’s behavior and helping him sleep well than active play indoors. If the indoor time is at a children’s museum or gym rather than just in our house, then that can work too. I think the key is for him to get the stimulation he needs and that just can’t happen when he spends the whole morning in our house. Sometimes it can be hard to get things together enough to get out of the house in the morning. However, I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter– it just needs to happen. We don’t need to go anywhere fancy– a walk around our condo complex or to a park will do the trick. So if I have to throw my hair back to keep it from looking scary and go out without makeup because that’s the only way I can get out before nap time, then so be it. A happy toddler that sleeps well is worth it!
Just in case you happened to miss the obvious too, I thought I should share my discovery. I hope it helps. Do you have any other nap time secrets? Have you had a similar”duh” moment? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Update: When I wrote this post, I decided to keep it simple and just focus on one aspect of a good nap. I do still find that getting out of the house is crucial if I want my son to sleep well. However, I don’t want parents who are having nap time troubles to be discouraged. Even after my discovery, we still have bad nap days (such as this day). There are so many things that can influence whether or not a child sleeps well, so even if you do everything right, your child still might have trouble settling down for a nap. Besides getting out of the house, I have found the next most important thing to be timing. If I miss the sleep window, our nap time can become a complete disaster. Long story short, definitely try getting out of the house (playing in the water and sun can work miracles) before nap if you are not already, but don’t think that nap time is always a smooth and easy process over here. When it comes to kids, you just never know what you’re going to get some days. Here’s hoping today is a day that your kids sleep well!