Dealing with No-Nap Behavior
If despite these efforts your child doesn't nap and melts down, parents shouldn't consider it so much "bad" behavior, but "predictable"—albeit frustrating—behavior. "Once they look at it that way, they should be better equipped to plan for and handle the consequences, i.e., allow for an earlier bedtime, forego a lot of social, out-of-the house-requiring-good-behavior-type activities, etc.," Dr. Jana says. "Lastly, realize that when young children are 'falling apart' because they are tired, that's not the time to teach them and rigorously enforce principles of good/expected behavior. [It] tends to backfire and make it worse."
In terms of whether to enforce naptime and routines, Dr. Jana suggests assessing your child's needs and tendencies to decide how rigid to be.
Children may skip a nap for several days in a row, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're ready to forego naps altogether, says Dr. Owen. "Look for a more consistent pattern over a few weeks," she says. Some children may also return to napping temporarily after a hiatus if they experience a change in activity level.
When naps end, parents also need a transitional period. "Try starting a routine where the child partakes in down time," suggests Dr. Jana. Have coloring books, puzzles, simple arts and crafts, reading material, and toys for imaginary play available for your child to entertain themselves quietly. This way you get a breather too, she says.
Sheedy Kurcinka doesn't recommend rushing to drop naps. She says even a 20-minute nap is good for all of us. That rest period allows the brain to begin integrating material into long-term memory and gives us the energy for the second half of our day. "It's usually because of conflicts—like preschool—that naps are given up ultimately, but there's nothing wrong with a siesta at any age," she says.
The real key to dealing with a child in the process of giving up a nap is to be flexible with schedules. Continue the siesta, says Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. If they need to nap, the opportunity is there. If they don't nap, the bedtime is moved earlier to allow for the full sleep need to be met at night. If they do, then bedtime is later, recognizing that they've napped.
If chaos is about to erupt because your child hasn't napped, Sheedy Kurcinka says to work harder at soothing and calming your child at naptime. Perhaps they're having trouble unwinding. Tweak the time of siesta and look for signs of sleepiness.