How to Get Your Child to Nap
Children don't need to be taught how to nap (they do it so beautifully!), but they do need to learn how to nap well. With just a few steps, you can establish napping habits for your child that will help bring him health and contentment for years to come.
Set the Schedule
As your baby ages, he’ll need different amounts of sleep. By 6 months, though, he should be on a schedule of two naps per day, a shorter nap in the morning and a longer nap in the afternoon. Between 18 and 24 months, he’ll drop the morning nap but likely keep the afternoon siesta until he’s about 4 years old.
It’s your job to set the schedule for naptime. You wouldn’t let him choose his own meals, would you? Good sleep is a basic need, just like good nutrition, and both take some planning. Our age-by-age napping guidelines will help you establish a healthy schedule so your baby can thrive. (And so you can get a shower.)
Set the Mood
The National Institutes of Health offers lots of advice for creating a comfortable environment for sleeping.
First, maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom: A bit cool is best.
Turn off or block out any light.
Make sure your child’s crib or bassinet is properly fitted with a comfortable, firm mattress. (The crib is the best location for your child’s napping. By 3 months or so, your baby’s ideal sleeping position is in her crib on her back, not on Dad’s chest or in Mom’s arms. For babies under 6 months old, the crib should be empty; for older babies, add a single transitional object, like a blankie.)
During the nap, keep the house quiet but don’t go to great lengths to eliminate all noise since young children can sleep through a lot.
After naptime, change the mood by letting the light shine in.
Remove your baby from the crib within a few minutes of her waking, and greet her cheerily.
Soon, she’ll learn to associate the napping environment that you’ve established with sleep: sweet, sweet sleep.
Set the Routine
Set aside 10 to 15 minutes to enjoy a pre-naptime routine with your child. Transition him from activity to relaxation. Make sure he’s home, fed, and clean. Turn off electronics and refrain from play. Move into his room. Sing him a lullaby. Read him a couple of lovely books. Then, settle him into his crib for his nap. He should be awake but sleepy, and even if he seems bright-eyed, let him know that it’s “night-night time.” Kiss him and leave; be gentle but firm.
Follow the routine that you establish consistently. When you’re away from home, follow it as closely as you can; teach other caregivers to follow it, too. This routine will give your baby the gift of knowing how to fall asleep when he needs to.
Avoid These Common Naptime Mistakes
Don’t include elements of the routine that can’t be duplicated by others. For example, don’t allow your child to develop a sleep association problem: do not hold, rock, sing, bottle feed, or nurse him to sleep. Even if you like doing those things now, one day (when you have another baby, or when he has a babysitter) it won’t be possible or desirable to do them.
Also, keep in mind:
Don’t give in to delay tactics; there are a hundred variations on the old “drink of water” routine, but you mustn’t fall for any of them.
Don’t think that an energetic child doesn’t need sleep; sleep-deprived kids become more active, not less.
Don’t put your baby down to sleep with a bottle.
Don’t give a baby solid food before he’s about 6 months old in hopes that it will help him sleep.
Don’t use crib time as a punishment.
Don’t put a TV in your child’s room.
Most importantly, don’t get stressed out over sleep problems.
And Sleep Tight
Remember, your child doesn’t nap just to give you a break. Your baby’s growing body and brain requires ample daytime sleep. Down time for you is merely a fringe benefit. Enjoy your baby’s naps; you’ll both be better people as a result. Sweet dreams!
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