By the time baby's first birthday rolls around, you could probably write a love letter to naptime. It's a rare chance to binge-watch TV, eat a snack (without sharing!), have an uninterrupted conversation with a friend, and tackle all those two-handed tasks you've been neglecting.
Unfortunately, like all good things, these midday siestas must come to an end. Though every kid is different, "most children give up daily naps sometime between 3 and 5 years of age," says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Nap Solution. But regardless of when it happens, ditching the daytime snooze can be challenging for both you and your child. These tips can help make the transition to nap-free living a little easier.
Before you eliminate daily slumbers, make sure your child is ready for the no-naps milestone. Obviously, your preschooler isn't going to waltz up to you one day and say, "Hey, Mom, I'm done with the whole napping thing." So you have to look for the signs, which may include:
Put it on paper. Still not sure if your child is ready to say adios to siestas? "Keep a sleep log—time in bed, time asleep, time they wake—and write a couple notes about their behavior for the day," says Dr. Super. After a week or two, you may see a pattern and be able to make a better decision about whether you should forge ahead with nap eliminations or hit the pause button.
Don't ban naps. Your child won't go from napping daily to never napping again overnight. "There will likely be a transition period of several months, even as much as half a year, when your child needs a nap some days but is fine without it on others," Pantley says. So let him sleep if he needs it, but take notice if a child older than 6 starts napping again every day, advises Jose Colon, M.D., M.P.H., a child neurologist and author of The Magic Ice Cream Palace, a children's sleep book. It may be a sign that he isn't getting enough sleep, or has a sleep disorder that should be discussed with the pediatrician.
Replace naps with quiet time. Taking a break in her bedroom or another non-busy area of the home is a good way for your child to recharge. (She can still choose to nap if she really needs it, Dr. Colon points out.) Start with 15- to 30-minute increments of quiet time, then gradually increase the time, up to about an hour, with periodic check-ins. Provide books, kid-friendly art supplies, puzzles, or a few quiet toys she can play with on her own to prevent boredom.
Be consistent. Just as you were consistent with naps, you need to be consistent with quiet time as much as possible. Try to have it at the same time each day—for instance, after lunch—and in the same designated area. If you make it predictable, your child will come to expect it, which means she'll probably put up less resistance. And hey, she may even begin to look forward to it.
Bump up bedtime. If, during the transition, your child shows signs of sleepiness or has regular afternoon meltdowns, try putting him to bed 20 minutes to an hour earlier, Dr. Colon says.