Since parents spend a lot of time giving to their child and putting off their own needs, they look forward to the free time they have when their child naps. While parents are adjusting to their newborn, they often use free time to catch up on sleep. But gradually they feel the need to be “productive” during their child’s naptime and may plan to do something during that period every day.

                               Each child has his own patterns of napping which change as he grows. During the first months of infancy, he may spend most of the day sleeping and then, for the next six months to a year, nap several hours at a time in the morning and again in the afternoon. Over the next year, he will most likely drop one of these naps and then gradually give up napping altogether. Of course, there are many children who stop napping at eighteen months old, and others who never take predictable naps, even in infancy. Some parents are flexible about naps and let their children follow their own natural sleep patterns, while other parents are advocates of strict scheduling.

                               A child’s napping pattern may depend on the amount of sleep he gets at night. A child who sleeps nine or ten hours at night will probably need an afternoon nap, while a child who sleeps twelve hours may not need to sleep again during the day. By the time he’s two or two and one-half years old, his napping might interfere with his nighttime sleeping so that if he   naps for several hours he may be filled with energy late at night. This is fine if his parents’ schedules permit late morning sleeping, or if they like to spend the evening hours with him. But if they want him to go to bed earlier, they should try and keep him from napping or at least from napping so long. Some parents are especially reluctant to let their child nap in the car, since a few minutes of sleeping in a car seat can take the place of a much longer nap at home.

                               Keeping a child from napping, however, can sometimes cause problems. Some children are very irritable when they don’t sleep during the day, and their parents might decide that eliminating the nap is not worth the struggle. The child might go to bed earlier if he doesn’t nap, but if he’s unhappy all afternoon and evening, the family hasn’t gained much. Similarly, many children are tired and irritable if their nap is cut short, although some are able to wake up after a short nap feeling rested and ready to play.

                               Children in day care often nap as they would at home. Infants sleep when they need to, and older children, who are usually up early in the mornings, generally nap for a couple of hours. These naps keep them from being sleepy during the early evening hours and allow parents extra time with them at night.

                               Many babies only fall asleep for their nap after being fed. Some older children who don’t want to separate from their parents or their play may need to be rocked or patted to sleep.

                               If your child doesn’t nap regularly, you may naturally feel frustrated at the lack of time for yourself. But you shouldn’t try to force him to nap, since there will be negative consequences. He may spend long periods crying and you’ll probably become angry at him and at yourself for forcing the issue. Instead, look for alternatives to napping. If you’re home, you can hire a baby-sitter to play with him several afternoons a week so you can have time alone, or you can try waking your child up earlier in the morning so he’ll go to sleep earlier at night. As he reaches preschool age, you might try having him stay in his room for a short quiet period of reading and playing.

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