How to Wean a Child Off Naps

It's the "Murphy Law" of parenting: Just as you've mastered one thing -- say, getting your kiddo consistently down for a long, dreamy nap -- it's time to put an end to that activity. Putting the kibosh on naps is particularly tricky.

As parents, we know how crucial it is that our kids get enough rest. (A tired toddler is most definitely not a happy toddler.) Plus, we treasure that rare alone time each nap session brings. As a result, we may have less patience or enthusiasm about ending naps than we do about other transitions.

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The good news: Gently easing your babe out of naps and into the world is a lot more do-able than you think. Although most kids naturally give up naps anytime between the ages of 2 and 5, here are some tricks to try if your child is stubbornly clinging to snooze-time:

Don't go cold turkey. Completely ix-naying the afternoon nap "just makes toddlers and, consequently, parents cranky," notes Heather Wittenberg, PsyD, a child psychologist in Maui, Hawaii, and creator of BabyShrink.com. "Think of how you feel when you suddenly get less sleep."

Push for more nighttime ZZZs. "Experiment with waking up your child from their nap a few minutes earlier each day, while putting them to bed a few minutes earlier," says Wittenberg. The goal is to slooowly adjust their little bodies to more nighttime sleep."Just make sure your child is still getting the total number of hours of rest she was getting before giving up the nap," Wittenberg notes.

Make it enjoyable for both of you. No one likes being awakened before they're ready, so rouse your tot gently. Depending on your Sleeping Beauty's personality, that could mean "waking with some music they like or a silly joke," suggests Wittenberg, "or something fun to do like a baking project or going outside."

Beware the late afternoon "nod off." "Napping too late in the day sets the stage for bedtime battles and probably won't result in your child getting more sleep," warns Stephanie Wagner, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU Child Study Center. To that end, you might need to limit long afternoon car rides or even sedentary activities like screen time during the transitionary period.

More From The Stir: 4 Reasons Your Kid Isn't Sleeping Through the Night

Adopt a "zen" attitude. "Some kids give up naps literally overnight, others might still need a nap well into kindergarten," Wittenberg says. If you see your child begin to regress developmentally -- say, having unusual meltdowns during the day, less interest in usual fun activities, or sleep disruptions during the night -- then slow down the changes you're making.

Know when to give up. As kids adjust to new habits, being irritable or even overactive is pretty normal, says Wagner. "But crankiness and sleepiness that persist after transitioning to a no-nap schedule suggest that a child is not ready to lose that daytime rest." See if you can work with your little one's preschool or care provider to get them more. "I've had some families take their child out of school early several days of the week so the child could nap," says Wagner. "An extra hour of school is not beneficial if a child is too sleepy to learn."

What nap-stopping strategies have you tried?


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