Most babies settle into a schedule of two naps per day by the time they reach six months of age. But just as you’re beginning to rely on the predictability of a morning and afternoon nap, you may start to notice that your little one’s naps become a bit erratic. This happens between 12 and 18 months and is usually a sign that they are ready to drop their morning nap. Their afternoon nap persists through their toddler years, and is usually dropped by 4 or 5 years of age. But what are the signs that a child is ready to drop his nap, and how do you help him cope with the transition?
When your baby is a newborn, naps are wildly unpredictable. Many babies spend most of their early months alternating between catnapping and feeding. But by the time your child is nearing 4 to 6 months, you may start seeing patterns emerge. Babies may take their first nap a few hours after rising in the morning, follow that up with an early afternoon nap, and may even take a third nap in the late afternoon. By six months, you’ll likely see that third nap become less important for your baby’s mood and wellbeing, and she’ll settle into a two nap schedule.
But once she turns 12 months, her daily naps may begin to change a bit. You may notice, between 12 and 18 months, that your child has a hard time going down for her morning nap, only naps for a brief period, or might skip that nap completely. Other babies may sleep well in the morning, only to fight going down for their afternoon naps, or sleeping for only a half hour or so. Other signs that she is ready to transition to one nap? If she doesn’t seem tired after skipping a nap or taking a short nap, that’s a clear signal. And if she stops showing signs of tiredness (eye rubbing, yawning) before her naps, that’s another sign.
But taking away your child’s morning nap all at once may be a bit too much for her. After all, she’ll need to acclimate to waking up in the morning and staying awake until the early afternoon. This might be a bit tiring, and quite over-stimulating. Try moving your child’s afternoon nap up a few hours. Instead of a 1pm nap, try and 11am nap and an early bedtime for a couple of weeks. Then try moving the nap to 11:30, then noon, then 12:00, until your child is ready to make it all the way through lunchtime without crashing, and happily goes down for a nap after lunch, at around 12:30 pm or so.
Your toddler will likely stick to his daily afternoon naps for quite a while. Some children show signs of dropping that afternoon nap as early as 3 ½ years old, many as late as 5 or 6. The signs that your child needs to drop his afternoon nap are similar to the ones mentioned above. Your child may struggle to fall asleep during this nap, may take a short nap, or could have trouble falling asleep at bedtime. But how to transition away from naps entirely?
One approach is to wean him off of his afternoon nap by gradually reducing the length of the nap in half hour increments, over the course of a few months. But some parents find that simply calling this afternoon period in bed “quiet time”, and leaving a child in bed with a few stuffed toys and books, is effective. That way, your child can skip his nap when he doesn’t need it, take a catnap when he does need it, and it allows him, even if he is ready to drop that nap entirely, to have some quiet time that allows him to relax physically and mentally after a fun morning. Many parents employ this “quiet time” for years!
Talk with your preschool teachers and ask how your child is doing at that time of day. Together in partnership, you can work together for the best possible transition away from napping.