Q. We have a 4-year-old who doesn't want to take a nap. She'll take a nap about once every two weeks, and we know she's dead tired. We can't figure out what to do.
-- Susan Chesser, Buffalo
A. Many 4-year-olds do not even want to hear the word "nap." When a child fights to give up midday snoozes, parents can make the transition easier on themselves and their kids by turning nap time into a quiet time.
"A lot of 4-year-olds are not going to nap," says Jodi A. Mindell, author of "Sleeping Through the Night" (HarperPerennial, $12). "But it's reasonable that a 4-year-old be required to have a quiet time. That's a good habit to get into."
Children this age benefit from time alone reading, listening to books on tape or playing quietly in their rooms, says Rebecca Huntley, author of "The Sleep Book for Tired Parents" (Parenting Press, $11.95).
This downtime solution, which needs to be coupled with an earlier bedtime, serves the purpose of a nap by rejuvenating the child and giving the parents a break, Ms. Huntley says. It's also valuable for a child to learn to play alone, the experts agree.
To avoid a power struggle while making this adjustment, start by taking away the word "nap," Ms. Huntley says. That's what worked for readers Kari Roche of Amherst, and Kathy Baker of Christenburg, Va.
"With my 4-year-old, we don't call it nap time. We call it a rest period," says Ms. Roche, whose son reads quietly for about 30 minutes each day.
"I have a 4-year-old who doesn't like the word nap," Ms. Baker says. "She gets a cup of juice and a snack and she lies down in her bed, maybe with some books. I turn on a timer for one hour and that's her hour by herself. Most of the time when she's tired she will fall asleep."
Kids typically give up naps at age 3 to 3 1/2 and go to bed earlier. But one reader, Ana Feliu of Pompano Beach, Fla., says her sons gave up naps at age 1. Jenny Ward of Huntersville, N.C., says none of her five children napped beyond age 2. Mary Anderson of Appleton, Wis., says her children gave up naps in their fourth year but still needed extra sleep.
"My solution was to put them to bed earlier at night," she says. "Then they were well-rested during the day and less likely to be crabby."
Most children today are not getting enough sleep, says Ms. Mindell, pediatric clinical director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia.
A 4-year-old typically needs about 11 1/2 hours of sleep a night, she says. To set an appropriate bedtime for a non-napper, count backward from when she has to get up to make the 11 1/2 hours, Ms. Mindell suggests. Move the bedtime back in increments of about 15 minutes a night as needed, she says.
"Expect to have a grumpy child at this transition time," says Ms. Huntley, a therapist from Seattle who consults with parents on sleep issues.
For a child who still seems to require a nap, Ms. Mindell offers these tips to encourage sleepiness:
Have the child nap in the same place where he sleeps at night.
Close the shades.
Make the afternoon routine a shortened bedtime routine that lasts five to 10 minutes.
Ms. Huntley offers another tip: Eliminate the power struggle by giving a choice about where to settle down -- Mom's bed, the couch, even a closet floor. But remember, try as you might, "you cannot make someone go to sleep," Ms. Huntley says.
If the combination of quiet time and an earlier bedtime do not seem to give a child the rest she needs, talk to her pediatrician about possible sleep disorders, the experts say.
Can you help?
NO CHURCH: "My 7-year-old does not like to go to Sunday school or church," says R.E. of Dallas. "She complains that it's boring, even though the program is well-designed and other kids seem to enjoy it. I know it's going to be harder to force her to go as she gets older. I'm wondering what other parents have done about this problem."
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