The Day My Toddler Wouldn't Nap Anymore

It's one o'clock in the afternoon — do you know where your toddler is? All his friends are fast asleep, napping soundly after lunch. But your little one is climbing the walls, wanting to play, asking for snacks, and begging to go to the park, perhaps all at once. Sound familiar? If so, what should you do? Should you force the issue, or give in? How long should you try for a good nap routine before you throw in the towel?

Jennifer raises this very question in one of our communities. Her 3-year-old simply will not go down without a fight. My son, also 3, is very much of the little-to-no napping camp. And what I realized one afternoon after I once again resorted to bribery — and, once again, failed! — is that it was a losing battle, that for the sake of everyone's sanity I should simply stop asking Olin to nap on my schedule.

You see, Olin has resisted sleep since the day he was born. Sure, every newborn sleeps in fits and starts, but my son has always fought sleep, even before he had ideas about what else he might be doing. And when he does finally succumb, you can trust it won't be for long. Even now, he goes to sleep in his own cozy bed, but he invariably wakes up at the crack of dawn, wanting company.

My epiphany that it was OK that he isn't a napper happened as follows. We were lying in his big futon on the floor one afternoon, and I was trying to think of a bribe that might work. Would he like to watch Caillou after his nap? Get pizza for dinner? Take his balance bike up to the enclosed area at the nearby schoolyard? But even though he loves all those things, he knew he couldn't say yes to a nap. Instead, he said to me, "Mama, I'm really not tired. Could I have some quiet time reading with you instead?" It was then that it dawned on me he was not trying to wrangle out of something he honestly needed to do. He just wasn't tired, and he didn't need a nap. Period.

In fact, on rare occasions when he does need to nap, he will let me know, and while the timing isn't always convenient, this demonstrates that he isn't just being contrary. Toddlers, and kids of all ages, need different amounts of sleep per day — and at different times of their lives.

His sincere request disarmed me and helped me realize that rest might be what we both needed more than anything. More, even, than sleep.

And so we read his favorite firefighter books, talked about what we wanted to do this weekend, and caught up in a way that wouldn't have been possible if I'd been spending all my energy getting him to sleep. It's true — I didn't get the dishes done or read a book of my own, but I had the much more delightful experience of hanging out with my son, quietly.