What To Do When Your Child Needs a Nap But Won’t Take One

By Elizabeth Pantley

Daytime naps might last just a few short hours, but they can affect all 24 hours of a child’s day. Naps can improve a child’s mood and reduce fussiness, crying, whining and tantrums. Studies show that children who nap daily also get sick less often, grow taller and are less likely to be obese when they grow up. Naps enhance attention span and brain development.

Naps can also help make up for any shortage in nighttime sleep. Even a one hour shortage in overall sleep hours can have a negative effect on a child-compromising alertness and brain function and increasing fussiness and fatigue.

There are many ideas for helping a child to take a nap, but the best idea in the world may not work for you if the solution doesn’t address the reason that your child won’t nap. There is not just one reason that babies and young children refuse to nap – there are hundreds of different reasons.

Before you decide on a solution, you need to understand your child’s motivation.

Once you figure out the cause of your child’s “nonnappingness” you can put together a plan to overcome his resistance.

Here are some typical reasons kids won’t nap-and suggestions to solve each problem:

Problem: Has outgrown the current nap schedule

Solution: Think about any changes in your child’s life, growth or development. Has he learned to crawl, begun to eat solid food or started daycare? Any change can also affect sleep patterns. Watch your child for signs of tiredness between naps and adjust your schedule to meet his new needs.

Problem: Nap schedule doesn’t match your child’s biological clock

Solution: Nap time, bedtime, mealtime, exposure to light and darkness, and activity can all affect your child’s biological clock. Look at your child’s schedule to be sure these things occur at reasonable times every day. The improper order of things (such as active, brightly lit playtime just before bed) can affect your child’s rhythm.

Problem: Nap schedule isn’t consistent from day to day

Solution: If on weekdays nap times, bedtime and wakeup time are specific, but on weekends they’re hit and miss, then your child will be functioning with a constant bout of jetlag. Other inconsistencies can also affect this, such as when your child naps at a certain time at daycare, but a different time at home, or if he takes a nice long nap on days when you are at home but takes a short one in the car (or skips a nap entirely) when you are on the go. Set up a possible nap schedule for your child and do your best to stay within a half hour of the nap times that you have set up.

Problem: Child is overtired and over-wired by nap time

Solution: If you miss your child’s signs of fatigue he can quickly move past his tired spell, past overtired, and into a second wind-that state of artificial energy which often brings with it more crying, fussing, whining and tantrums. When you miss your child’s tired signs it also means he won’t be able to fall asleep when you do finally put him in bed.

To learn your child’s sleepy signs it can help to watch him in the hour after he first wakes up in the morning, when he is well rested. Compare this to his behavior during the time from dinner to bedtime, when most children show signs of fatigue. As his usual bedtime draws near, make note of how his behavior and body language differs from when he is alert and refreshed. Aim to put your child for a nap as soon as he shows signs of fatigue. A tired child will fall asleep easily and sleep longer and better.

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