When is the recommended age that kids drop their nap? My two-and-a-half-year-old fights me most days. Help!
Most moms need their toddlers to take longer naps or take naps for longer than some kids want to. As a veteran mom and nap-needer, I have pondered the nap question a lot over the years, having had both toddlers who loved long naps and toddlers who were catnappers. My husband, Dr. Bill, has learned from pediatric practice that toddlers because of temperaments vary in their sleep patterns. Our book, The Baby Sleep Book, offers a chart on the average ages and stages that children typically drop their naps. Here are the averages we found yet, as we all know, there is no such thing as “the average child.”
For the first few months, babies need around three naps a day with a total naptime between three to five hours. Next, drop down to two naps a day around 6 months and continuing that pattern until around 12 months. Between 12 and 18 months, the morning nap drops, and the afternoon nap can be longer. After two years of age, the afternoon nap may gradually get shorter but will still be needed. By this time, a lot depends on how busy the day is. Many toddlers/preschoolers continue to need an afternoon nap until around the age of four. But some do not, and as you are finding, naps begin to be resisted. Easy-going preschoolers often still need daytime sleep. High-need and high-energy preschoolers tend to take shorter more frequent naps.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations
It is helpful to think about sleep in 24 hours as a whole, instead of nap and nighttime sleep separately. This can hopefully take some of the pressure off of forcing the perfect nap circumstances. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests these guidelines for infant and toddler sleep hours:
- Infants 4 – 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) regularly to promote optimal health.
- Children 1 – 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) regularly to promote optimal health.
- Children 3 – 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) regularly to promote optimal health.
I have always thought of naptime as a much-needed retreat time. Not only does my child need a nap, but I need some downtime, too. Try these naptime tips:
If your child seems cranky and tired in the middle of the afternoon, chances are he needs a nap even though he may resist one. Yet, if your child seems generally happy, then perhaps he is one of those toddlers who is ready to drop the afternoon nap. Another clue is whether he sleeps well during the night. Does he wake up well-rested in the morning? If he does, it may be worth it to give up the daytime nap and celebrate your nighttime rest. Like so many questions in parenting, read your child, and follow your mother’s intuition.
Consider your Family Situation
Perhaps you want to juggle your child’s nap schedule to fit your lifestyle. Sometimes by giving up the afternoon nap your toddler will go to sleep earlier, opening more evening time for you and your husband. Yet, there is a risk of more nightwaking. Another situation we have encountered is where parents who work outside the home during the day do not want to be greeted with a cranky toddler when they get home. In this case, it may help to instruct your caregiver or preschool teachers to try to get your toddler to have a mid-to-late-afternoon nap.
Try “Mommy is Tired, we Both Need a Nap” Strategies
Remember the advice I’ve given in many MWM answers: The time in your arms and in your bed is a short and precious time in the total life of a child, but those high-touch memories last a lifetime. Set the scene for you both to take a nap. When you see any behavioral changes, say from a happy child to a cranky one, take that as a clue that it is time for both of you to co-nap. Sometimes I would wait until mid-afternoon when my toddlers would show signs of wanting to nurse. I would retreat to a darkened bedroom, turn on soothing music, turn my phone off, and spend some quiet time with my toddler. I call this scenario a “setting event.” A child learns to recognize this scenario as leading to a nap and usually obliges. Create a naptime routine that you look forward to each day. Also, I noticed that my toddlers napped longer when we would co-nap.
Once our toddlers would get used to this routine, I would have to come up with some novel sleep-inducing strategies. Around three years of age I would play the “backrub game.” I would “plant a garden” on my child’s back, using different touches to indicate different plants. As you see your child drifting off, gradually lighten your stroke. Stay there for a while with your child until you see he is sound asleep.
My husband had a favorite go-to-sleep strategy that he called “bore babies to bed.” He would tell them a story of when he went fishing as a child and would catch “one fish, then he would catch two fish, and then three fish, four fish…” and usually by the twenty or thirtieth fish our child would be off to sleep.
A perk for letting daddy do now-and-then naptime duty is when your child wakes up at night, he is more likely to let dad “father nurse” him back to sleep. As a perk, now and then mommy gets to enjoy a full night’s sleep
Above all else, breathe and try not to stress. The best thing you can do for your precious little one is to provide a safe and relaxing environment that is anchored in trust and remember that every baby needs something different.
For twenty pages of naptime strategies that work, visit our website and see our book, The Baby Sleep Book, for Sears’ family naptime experiences. Site for AAP recommendations. AAP Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines – HealthyChildren.org
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”