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No-Nonsense Napping Guide for Toddlers

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Know When It's Nap Time

"Tune in to your kids' signs that they are ready to nap," Shubin says. "Some kids sit there and stare. Some get fussy, and some kids cry when they are ready to nap."

"They may start blinking their eyes, yawning, getting cranky, rubbing their eyes, or zoning out when they need a nap," Yapalater says, warning that "this can happen quite quickly."

Create an Ideal Napping Environment

"Try to put your child in the same environment for each nap," Yapalater says. "Don't let your child nap in the crib one day, a day bed the next, and in your bed the day after that," he says. Why? "You really want the napping environment to be as consistent as possible so your child will associate it with going to sleep," he says.

"You can't force anyone to take a nap, but you can create the environment for sleep," Yapalater says. "Tell your child, 'You can sleep, be awake, or sing, but you have to stay put,'" he says. "Don't make an appearance as you would at night because there are more distractions during the day. So it doesn't take much for them to say, 'There is too much going on here for me to nap.'"

Don't Let Your Toddler Nap in the Stroller

This may be convenient, especially if your sleepy tot doesn't transfer well. But it can be dangerous, Yapalater warns. "Do not let your children nap in strollers, bouncy seats, or car seats that are parked on the floor because these places are not made for sleeping unless they are constantly monitored." Accidental strangulation, suffocation, or entanglement can occur due to all the buckles and straps.

Let the Morning Nap Drop Out Naturally

For most children, the morning nap drops out by 12 to 18 months because they need less sleep. "Let this happen on its own," Shubin says. "Your child will stick to an afternoon nap until they are anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 years old. Some 3- or 4-year-olds still take an afternoon nap, but 6-year-olds don't nap."

Be Careful of Dropping a Nap Too Soon

"There is not a hard-and-fast rule about outgrowing naps," Mary Michaeleen Cradock, a clinical psychologist with St. Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri, says. "You may start to see signs that the child wakes up earlier from a nap, or they may not show any signs that they need one." 

Nap refusal for an 18-month-old is not a sign that he or she is outgrowing the need to nap as it might be for a three-year-old. "If a child doesn't want to take a nap," Craddock says, "he or she may just be overtired."

"If it's a day or two of protesting, don't subtract the nap too fast. But if nap protesting goes on for a couple of weeks, then it may be time to give it up," Yapalater says.

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