(This is Part 3 of our three-part series on nap transitions.)
The nap at 3 years may get even later, pushing toward 1 or 2 pm and ending around 3:30 or so. Most children start to give up their nap somewhere between 3 and 4 years. However, your child may continue to nap as late as age 5 (if you’re lucky!), and some kids do transition earlier. As with other nap transitions, you’ll know your child is ready to give up the nap when either (1) he begins to consistently refuse his nap, either chatting, talking, or playing in his bed at length, or crying and protesting; or (2) the nap becomes so late that it interferes with his ability to go to bed at night earlier than 8:30 (the latest bedtime we recommend through age 5). Remember to rule out acute teething, illness, or other unusual circumstances (such as a new baby in the home) when determining whether your child is truly ready to give up his nap.
When your child begins to transition from one nap to none, you’ll enter the last “Yuck Zone” where he will vacillate between needing and refusing a nap. For a while, you can follow his lead: when he does nap, maintain the bedtime as usual. If he refuses the nap, however, you’ll need to put him to bed unusually early (by as much as 1 hour, if necessary). You can “cheat” by driving for the nap for a little while if the car puts him to sleep – though many parents who experiment with trying to do only one short “blip” nap in the late afternoon, even in the car, often greet a very cranky bear upon waking, and if that’s the case for you it isn’t worth trying for it. When you make the leap to giving up the nap entirely, your child will be able to stay up till his usual bedtime after a few weeks. Bonus: after they’ve given up their nap, many kids will actually tack on additional sleep to their nighttime total, sleeping as much as 12 or 13 hours straight through. Enjoy it while it lasts!
A lot of parents worry about a child being forced to give up his nap before he is ready, due to preschool schedules beginning in the summer or fall. Usually this is the case for a child scheduled in an afternoon program. If this is the case for you, you can either try to do a short driving nap beforehand, to take the edge off of his fatigue. But if he won’t fall asleep that early and doesn’t get the nap, be sure to adjust bedtime significantly earlier – he’ll be ready, with all of that increased activity at school. Whatever you do, don’t let your child nap very late into the afternoon, as this will cause him to stay awake till all hours.
If a child who’s given up his nap is still at home, you can direct him to some quiet time, with or without your participation, either in his room or in a quiet corner of your home – say, a child-size table in your family room – that includes low-key activities such as coloring, playing with blocks, or working on a puzzle. Avoid screen time during this rest, which will only key him up more. The duration of quiet time depends on the child – some will be happy to play quietly for as much as 45 minutes to an hour; others will be able to tolerate only 20 minutes. Any quiet time is beneficial.
See our links below for sample schedules – and good luck with all of your nap transitions!