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My son has never been good at going down for naps. But lately he is getting so bad that he sometimes skips them and I am also afraid he is going to hurt himself as he purposely throws himself at the sides of the cot (my fault really, the first couple of times I picked him up after he smacked his head).

For a long time now we have just put him down in his cot, told him its nap time and walked out. For a long time he has cried for 10 minutes and gone to sleep. Its never been nice but all alternatives we tried at the time lead to crying for longer and being awake for longer.

However its been a few months now since we tried anything different. And he has got so much calmer at night time that I am hoping to try something different to get him to be calmer for naps.

At night, he has a bottle, but we are weening him off (he rejects it himself most nights we give it to him now). Its usually darker and we have started reading him a story after we put him down and show him his water bottle (which he will usually drink a bit of while we read and then make himself comfy).

In the day we tend to just put him down and put his water bottle where he can see it. But he is already crying and tantruming as soon as we start taking him upstairs. Occasionally he wont go to sleep at all and we take him for a walk in the pram, this used to always get him to fall asleep in the pram, but lately he fights that too, refuses to get into the pram and cries on the walk.

It just feels like its getting worse instead of better....

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    Have you tried a No Nap day? Most kids eventually grow out of naps, some much earlier than others. If he's actually sleepy, though, it's more challenging... – Acire Feb 10 '15 at 12:09
  • he does always seem sleepy, rubbing his eyes, being more agitated. But it does seem he can just snap out of it and suddenly be super awake again (running around etc) – chrispepper1989 Feb 10 '15 at 16:17
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    What is his nap schedule like? Is he just on one nap a day? It seems early to drop the nap altogether but perhaps experimenting with the timings a bit could lead to less resistance. – MiniMum Feb 11 '15 at 13:22
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Our son began having a hard time with naps at that time too. Most behavioral issues for children can also be traced back to sleep habits, and usually they are a result of not having enough sleep. What we found through reading and experimentation is that a few more things were happening than just a rough nap time:

  • Separation Anxiety. Leading up to the 18 month mark separation anxiety kicks into high gear. Its a good, and healthy thing for a kid to want to be close to their parents at this age and a part of the developmental process. Try a lovey to help, and reassure the kid that sleep is important to their growth and development. They may not understand what you're saying, but they do understand that you are trying to reassure them.
  • Parent attitude. When I was dreading putting him down, putting him down was worse. Kids pick up on the small biological signals that we send out when we're anxious.
  • Nap schedule. Between 12 and 18 months kids can still sometimes go for 2 naps a day, even though most of the time they only prefer one nap. Its not until about 18 months that the second nap begins to disappear completely. If your child is growing, perhaps they need some extra rest. Kids will need a nap until they are a couple years old, and at that age they should still be getting roughly 13-14 hours of sleep between nighttime and nap time. If nighttime sleep is not enough, nap time can be much harder. If we, as parents, are doing nap times too late or not providing the opportunity for enough sleep then sleep problems arise. Conversely, if we are pushing them into too much sleep when they don't need it then sleep problems arise. Finding the right amount of sleep for your child is an individual experience and will be different for each child. That said, always err on the side of more sleep in moments of transition before cutting sleep.
  • As mentioned previously, an abbreviated bedtime routine was critically important for us. We don't do the bath time, but we do continue our books and a song for nap time.
  • They are better at training us than we are at training them. If your child knows that they longer he/she screams the more likely you are to come back in, then that's what they will do. I don't recall the citation, but there was a Harvard study that looked at stress levels associated with children crying it out. After the first night, their stress hormone levels (cortisol was used to measure it here) were the same as any other method. They may sound like they're being tortured, but they're really just protesting in the only way they know how.
  • Consistency is key. No matter what way you approach nap time (go back in and reassure, close the door and walk away, etc.) just remember that being consistent is the most important thing. Kids thrive on routine.
  • Each kid is different. And you know what? Sometimes despite all the best intentions and the best schedule they will just not agree with it and not want to go through with it.

Remember: You obviously care, that's why you're asking questions here. The most important thing is providing a loving environment for your child and it sounds like you're doing that. Kids grow, change, protest, learn boundaries (through testing them). The fact that a few minutes of screaming, and admittedly it is blood curdling and heart-wrenching, does have an effect on you: You are on the right track.

If you can, pick up "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child." By Marc Weissbluth. Its is a phenomenal reference and discusses how to address specific sleep problems directly.

  • Fantasticly detailed answer, I had almost forgot about this question but the points you raise are still relevant now. I have found myself lying down with him some nights, but sometimes he asks and sometimes he doesn't, I figure I will only have a few years left were he wants me to lie down with him so as long as I feel he can sleep without me, I will slip in the odd one... – chrispepper1989 May 3 '16 at 7:55
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    Admittedly, I did the same with my son occasionally. Now, at 19 months, lying down with him is basically an impossibility because he starts to play. Alas... There are still nights where he has bad dreams where he will lie down with me or mama and sleep. I think I enjoy those more than he does. – Nick May 3 '16 at 9:00
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It sounds like you have a relaxing night-time routine that sets the stage for sleep, I'd suggest doing a mini-version of this at nap time. Setting the stage for sleep is important, it signals the brain that it's time to rest, and it seems to be working for you at night.

Kids this age also bond to a "lovey" - a stuffed animal or blanket that can be comforting at nap time.

Try a white noise machine, or the app RainRain to make soothing sounds, which helps calm down our daughter when she is resisting naps.

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