While hiking in Black Mountain, North Carolina last summer, my friend of 25+ years and great aunt to the (overtired) little ones with us asked, "Do any children want to take a nap?” She assumed all children resisted nap time. I assured her, many children do enjoy their naps and will ask for one when they are sleepy.
My experience of working with families shows that a positive attitude toward sleep starts with putting healthy and appropriate routines in place, as well as making sleep a restorative — not punitive — experience. A client with two young children who love their naps said she is careful to present sleep in a positive light and never uses it as a negative consequence. Normalizing times for sleep and helping little ones see the benefits can create a different perspective on taking time out for rest.
First Daze & Nightzzz sleep consultant Kara Curtis recalls when she was a child her mother would tell her, “those sheets are going to feel so yummy” and she’d sign off with “I love you. Happy Nappy.” Kara says, “There is something so comforting about that little special family phrase. She definitely cultivated the idea of sleep as a wonderful luxury that was going to feel so fantastic. And I still feel that exact same way every time I get into my bed as an adult — so delighted to be crawling into my yummy sheets!”
Janet Lansbury, the author of Elevating Childcare, says there are three essential elements to a baby’s or young child’s sleep routine. She calls them the three Ps — peaceful, participatory and predictable. The environment should be peaceful without stimulation from toys, screens, light, and exterior noise. The parent should be relaxed and focused on the matter at hand, giving undivided attention to the sleepy child. Allow the baby or child to participate in preparations which can be as simple as pulling down shades, choosing a book or turning on a white noise machine. All of these steps should be predictable, “so that our children can anticipate the ritual and even lead when we invite them to make choices. Predictability breeds security, which leads to calm, which is the gateway to relaxation and sleep,” Lansbury says.
Did you read that? Predictability breeds security. Our children feel more secure (hence, less anxious) when they know what comes next. Less anxiety equals calmer child which means easier to fall asleep.
Understandably, young children may feel like they’re going to miss out on something if they stop to sleep. While winding down for nap time, talk about what you will do after their body and brain rests. Let them know they have something to look forward to and with renewed energy to do it.
A former client relayed a story about her then 3-year-old daughter. She napped a bit later at home on the weekends than she did at daycare during the week. One Saturday while Mom was busy with household chores, her daughter came to her and said, “I’m ready for my nap.” This was music to the mom’s ears. “She loves sleep and told us so herself. If we don't remind her it's nap time she usually reminds us,” the mom said.
Another former client emailed to tell us how, after using our services when her little one was an infant, the now 4 year old comes to get them when she’s ready for her nap if they get busy and miss it. “She still loves an early bedtime and gets about 11-12 hours of good sleep each night,” the proud (and well-rested) mom said.
We love working with families early on whenever possible to establish good sleep from the start. If you need help establishing healthy sleep habits, and perhaps revamping attitudes toward sleep, get in touch. And if you already have good sleepers, tell us what worked in your home to create happy and healthy sleep habits.