Dropping your child's nap completely is a long game. Sometimes up to a year long.
Children will start dropping their nap as early as 2.5 years and keep it as late as 5 years old. There is no right or wrong age as so when it starts to drop or fully drop.
💡 Average age to really focus on intentional dropping of the nap can happen around 3-4 years old.
Reasons why parents may want to help their child drop their nap.
1. Your child outright refuses to nap and it's stressful. Follow their lead; incorporate "quiet time" instead. Start small with a toddler color clock to reward/praise verbally for 15-30 minutes in their room with a quiet toy or book. You can then gradually increase time in the room up to 1-2 hours.
2. Your child still naps, but has a very hard time falling asleep at bedtime. This scenario causes overnight sleep to be short and not-restorative, which keeps the nap welcome. The cycle repeats. Naps are not a replacement for night sleep. If night sleep dips below 10 hours, I recommend to start the transition and drop the nap according to the schedule below.
3. Early morning - like your child wants to start their day at the crack of dawn; like 5am or before! This is a clue that their nap is encroaching on their ability to sleep at night. Their early morning is a product of their sleep totals being met. This is sometimes the hardest habit to get past as it makes for super long days and a crabby kid.
4. Preschool naps- Daycares and preschools in the United States are required to offer a 1-2 hour rest time. It's incredibly likely that your child will feel tired after their lunch and see all their peers resting quietly. It's the perfect recipe for a snooze. My twins are 5 years old, and are in preschool. They do not nap anymore and I did everything I could to discourage them falling asleep at their rest time. I've talked to their teacher several times about tacticts to keep them from sleep. Turns out, she's great and willing to work with me. She has moved my twins closest to her desk to keep an eye on them and remind them that mom doesn't want them to sleep, haha! I send activities in their backpacks like sticker books, coloring books and puzzles. It works really well and they RARELY nap at school.
Be an advocate for your child! Their teacher may also be willing to wake them early or put them down last to help reduce sleep duration and times of sleep.
Checkout this article I wrote on preschoolers sleep needs and expectations.
Sleep totals by age
*Information provided by the National Sleep Foundation*
The roadmap to dropping your child's nap completely will take time and can look like the following example.
👉🏻 Not offering a nap every 3rd to 4th day. So, you child may be napping 4-5 days a week. On days they don't nap, bring bedtime about an hour earlier. This means, if lights out is currently 8pm, bring bedtime to 7pm.
👉🏻 After many weeks or a couple months of that, move to skipping it every 2nd or 3rd day. Your child then may be napping 2-4 times per week. Getting to a point of skipping it every other day will help their bodies adjust to the cortisol and overtiredness that can build up.
👉🏻 The end goal is to arrive at offering it in the same sequence as above. That would look like your child napping 1-3 times per week. Until it's completely gone.
How to avoid cat naps or car naps late in the day
These will inevitably happen sometimes, more-so if there isn't enough night sleep being offered. I recommend 11.5-12 hours overnight sleep when nap is being skipped. Try to keep your child engage in the car with conversation or their favorite music. If they fall asleep, try and wake them up after 15-20 minutes as to not interfere with bedtime.
Will your child ever transfer from the car to their bed?
Probably! One good thing that I experienced in our 1-0 nap transition was the ability to transfer my twins from car to bed! Yep, it seems like an urban myth some parents talk about, but I was able to experience it all last summer. My twins were 4 and we would spend weekends at our lake house. They wouldn't nap all weekend, and by the time Sunday evening rolled around, they were spent! We would have dinner around 5:30pm, then change into pajamas and pull-up and pull out of the driveway around 6:30 pm to make the 45 min drive home. They would be asleep in minutes and sleep all the way home, I would carry them up to bed (stopping at the potty first) and they would snuggle back up to sleep and sleep until the morning. Sometimes my sensitive twin would be cranky and sweat when woken up, but it wouldn't last long.
Sleep & Behavior
Three and four year olds have a lot going on developmentally, which makes this transition even more stressful. Every child is different and their over-tiredness will build at different rates. My favorite parenting coach and expert is Janet Lansbury. I find it extremely helpful to pop in my AirPods and listen to a short episode of her podcast Unruffled about child behavior. I find her voice so soothing! Remembering that an early bedtime is your secret ingredient just as much as time will ensure your child s
tays as rested as possible. An overtired child has even less control over their emotions. I know I feel like a loose cannon when I am tired.
Things to remember when dropping your child's nap completely.
It will take TIME. Be patient and strategic with your approach, if needed.
Night sleep is king! Offer early bedtime.
Keep a diary of how much your child sleep in 24 hours, when dropping the nap, their total sleep may go UP for a short while.
Lindsay Loring is the author of this article. She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant with Tweet Dreamzz Sleep Consulting. Lindsay is a mom to twins and lives with her family in the metro St. Louis, MO area. She has personally coached hundreds of families including 80+ sets of twins. Need personalized help? Book a free call with Lindsay!