Most parents spend a good portion of their time and energy in trying to get their young child to nap, but it has gotten to the point in my house where I’m wondering if I should force dropping the nap.
i can imagine you staring at me blankly. “What?” you ask, “Why on earth would you want to do that?”
Well, it goes something like this:
Over the years, I’ve put in lots of hours sleep training my daughter, Elizabeth, patiently putting her down awake, picking her up and putting her back down again, patting her back, etc., so that she could learn to fall asleep on her own. Once she was weaned of nursing, I read stories to her afternoon and night, and now I have a child who has consistently taken naps for 4 1/2 years. But it just doesn’t seem to be working any more.
“Not working anymore?” You wonder, “What does that mean? How does an afternoon break with time to yourself not work any more?”
Indeed, I’ll admit, I’m loath to lose my afternoon alone time, it’s when I do my best writing, among other things. I especially hate to push her to drop her nap because my toddler often sleeps at the same time, so it’s real alone time. But it’s not the afternoon nap that’s really the problem, it’s the nighttime sleep habits that are.
You see, because Elizabeth takes an afternoon nap, usually from 3 – 4:30 or 5 pm, she then doesn’t go to bed until 9:30 or 10 pm. Or rather, I finally leave her room after stories at 9:30 or 10, but then she might stay up until 10:30 or 11. More and more, she has also been telling me about instances when she got up to play with her cars during the night, and the other day, she woke my husband up at 5 am because her flashlight wasn’t working.
A few days after the flashlight incident, I was putzing in the homeschooling stuff, and with both kids napping, didn’t even realize how late it had gotten. Elizabeth slept until 7:15 pm! If I had realized the hour, I probably would have woken her up by 6:30, though it’s been my general rule to never wake a sleeping baby. Needless to say, that, though we did our bed-time stories at 10, she did not go to sleep until 11:30 or 12 am!
The consistent occurrence of her telling me that she got up in the night tells me two things:
1. She’s becoming more aware of the control she has over her body’s voluntary actions.
2. She is probably over-sleeping during the day such that she’s not tired enough at night to fall right asleep, nor stay asleep.
I’ve continued along with the routine we have in place because, besides losing my alone time, making her drop her nap will disrupt the rest of the family’s lives. When Elizabeth was younger, like up to 3 1/2, if she missed her nap she was ok, I would just try to get her to bed a little earlier but she could handle it if I didn’t. Then the next day was business as usual. Recently, it has seemed like if she misses her nap, she is a bear and needs to go to bed at 6 pm. If she doesn’t go to bed early, the last few hours, she is really unpleasant and at some point reverts to biting, kicking, hitting, and scratching if she doesn’t get her way (or even if she does). It does no good to threaten a loss of privilege nor take one away, because it doesn’t affect the outcome, which is ultimately my fault for not putting her to bed.
However, having one child in bed at 6 or 7 pm hampers the rest of the family as we can’t go anywhere in the evenings, makes it so my husband only sees her fleetingly after work, and upsets other routines like dinner and baths. Yet the case for forcing her to drop her nap will result in some good, like giving her and I some one-on-one time. For the past six months or so, the toddler has been napping at the same time as Elizabeth, which is great for me, but since he takes shorter naps than she does, she and I never have time for just the two of us.
Secondly, I’m hoping that dropping the nap will have a positive affect on my sex life, since having Elizabeth up until 11:30 makes me tired waiting for her to fall asleep before my husband and I can have our intimate time together. I am absolutely not interested in having my 4-year-old walk in on us in the act!
Lastly, I figure that eventually, she will regulate her bedtime, and I will be able to push it back until 8 or so and have her sleep in a little later in the morning, rather than from 7 to 7.
Today, I am on day 3 of experimenting with forcing her to drop her nap. For 2 days, she was ok, but kind of resisted bedtime during daylight hours. To compensate for the loss of the comfortable routine story time in the afternoon before her nap, we read stories on the couch while my son was asleep. Today, we did the same, but after her requesting multiple times to go do our regular routine because she was tired, I conceded, and now all is quiet in her room. I guess no where does it say that forcing a dropped nap needs to be all or nothing, as not much in parenting is. My gentle parenting intuition tells me to follow her lead anyhow and if that involves some days without naps and some with, that is ok.
You nod at me, finally understanding. “Are you going to let her sleep til 7 pm again today?” you ask.
Is forcing a dropped nap something you’ve ever done? What was your experience? Do you have any suggestions for me?