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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 3-year-old goes to day care Monday through Friday and consistently takes a nap every day there. Saturdays and Sundays are a different story—he refuses. He is undoubtedly tired; without one he is melting down by dinner time, and he clearly benefits when he actually takes one. We’ve tried telling him he can read, play quietly, or lie down in his room during naptime, but he just loses his shit, yells, and bangs on the door. My husband and I are so tired of this struggle every weekend. Any suggestions? Just let it go?
—No Naps for Him
Dear No Naps,
Because there have been so many variations of the “how to make a kid nap” conversation, often powered by the same, easily accessible “expert” advice, I am simply going to speak from personal experience here.
My daughter has always had a somewhat inconsistent weekend schedule, especially when she’s at my house. Few Saturdays and Sundays look alike, so trying to fit a ritual that she hated into the middle of what may have been a fun or busy day was usually a bust. Honestly, I tried a couple of times and said, “To hell with this.” The sky did not fall. She continues to thrive by all measures of development, and no one called the police on me. When she did nap, it was only because she was so exhausted that her little body just gave up and she crashed in spite of herself, or because she was in her stroller or car seat and just fell asleep.
My own mother, who was far more diligent about following the established best practices for parenting than I am, also made the same concession when I was a tot. Unlike your son and my daughter, I rarely slept during naptime at school. I’d lay on the rug and agonize about various things going on in my life, think about cartoons, stare at classroom items, or just daydream. At home when naptime came, I’d cry, complain, or just stare out into the void until she let me get back to doing what I wanted to do.
Try scheduling activities and errands so that your kid gets a peaceful car or stroller ride around the time he’d normally lay down at school. When you’re home, don’t make a big show of sending him to his room and announcing, “NAPTIME”—stop telling him about it all together. Give him a low-sugar snack. Turn on quiet music. Dim the lights. Sit on a couch or in a comfy chair with him and ask to cuddle while you read him a book.
If all fails, giving up is totally fine (just be very sure that he’s getting a good night’s sleep). Some kids just don’t take naps. Luckily, your son is comfortable taking them at day care, where his fussy nap-deprived behavior would be a bigger issue. One day, he’ll be an adult who’d kill to have a midday break to sleep, and you can tease him about all the naps he could have had way back when.