I have previously written about what to look for to know when it is time to drop a nap HERE. There are two approaches to nap drops, both have their pros and cons and either can be gentle:
1. Child Drops Nap Naturally.
If your child drops their nap (whether that’s 3 to 3, 2 to 1, or 1 to none) you are likely to find that the process is a slow and gradual one. One day they will take the nap, the other not. They may take the nap much later than normal, wake up earlier, or not take it and flake out for the night at 5pm. Letting it happen naturally is giving your child control, however it can often leave you feeling totally out of control and can cause problems with night sleep.
2. You Try to Control the Nap Drop.
Your child begins to show signs of an imminent nap drop and you decide to speed the process along. This is not totally natural and child led, as above, however it is important to understand that you are still being led by your child if you are following their cues. I only advocate this approach if there are signs of an imminent drop underway. The pros of this approach are that it can speed the transition and avoid some of the ‘all over the place’ days and nights that may occur in approach one, which can leave you calmer and happier as a parent which has a direct result on your child.
I am actually far more in camp 2, following your child’s cues and then taking the lead a little. This approach can be very difficult for a week or two (often nearer the two) as your child is likely dropping naps and not making up for it at night, this is normal and transient. If you can survive this time you will come out of it likely more easily and quickly if you go for approach one.
But HOW do you keep them awake? I’m asked this a lot. The simple answer is that you can’t, not always. There will always be times when they fall asleep in the car or buggy and that’s OK, it happens. Try again the next day. I also advocate doing something fun and lively when you see your child lagging. Go for a walk (sans buggy), play a game, kick a ball around in the garden, do some dancing. Anything possible to try to 1. keep your child awake and 2. keep them happy (or as happy as possible).
What do you do when the nap goes? I think firstly it’s important that you don’t try to delay this. Too many parents are desperate to keep the nap when actually the child needs to drop it, as a general rule I would expect the nap to go between 2 and 3 years (some will drop it at 1 and some at 4 or 5, that’s OK, I’m just talking about the average). There is only heartache and stress to be found in trying to keep a nap when it needs to go, for everybody.
When your child stops napping it’s likely that they will grumpy in the days sometimes, that’s normal. They are learning to last the day without a nap. Here I strongly advocate some ‘down time’, or ‘chill out time’. Make a chill out area in your living room (not their bedroom, that’s too much like forcing a nap), pop a beanbag, sensory blanket and sparkly lights in the area and encourage your child to take some time out, either with or without you, whichever they are happy with. I strongly recommend relaxation CDs here (but not the type to make them go to sleep, like mine HERE, that’s for bedtime only!), or audio books. I like Relax Kids CDs and downloads for this. It is really important that you stress “we’re not going to sleep” here, if your child thinks you are trying to make them sleep, they will resist you. Highlight as much as you can that you are just going to relax for a bit, but stay awake.
For more on baby and toddler sleep see my Gentle Sleep Book,