Sunday, July 31, 2011

Managing the Napless Transitions

The transition away from napping happens at different ages for each child, but I think it’s fair to say that, no matter their age, kids in mid-transition have it rough.  It follows, naturally, that parents of kids in mid-transition have it somewhat rough as well. 
There are sleepless rest times filled with irritated admonishments.  Long afternoons of cranky, over-tired little ones airing their exhaustion all over the place.  Early morning risings facilitated by necessarily earlier bedtimes. 
And all of the above is going on in my household at this very moment.  My three-year-old, a historically fantastic sleeper, is outgrowing her nap time.  I consider us lucky to have lasted this long, but it doesn’t make the confusion of the transition any simpler. 
Do I let her sleep on the days she will, only to have an energetic child, hyper-awake far past a normal bedtime?  Do I keep us active through nap time in the hopes that entertainment will thwart the late-afternoon grumpies?
Thankfully, we’ve been through this all before with our older child, and I’m beginning to remember our plan of attack.  Because there are plenty of days that it feels like we’re doing battle. 
First, it will help us to plan our super-energetic activities for first thing in the morning.  Some kids may benefit from the opposite, but I’ve found that letting them use their fresh, new energy early, helps our transition days go more smoothly.  Plus, if we have a play date or park time scheduled, I’d rather have those things planned during our non-grumpy hours.  This will free the afternoon up for more leeway in the mood-department.
It’s also a good idea to re-assess the child’s needs on a daily basis.  Just because she hasn’t napped for three days in a row doesn’t mean that she can last the entire week without a nap.  Still attempting a daily nap in a quiet, cool place without excess stimulation will allow her to rest just in case THIS is the day that she’s actually tired enough to sleep. 
On those golden, magical days when sleep does happen, it can be tempting to let the child stay asleep until they simply wake up, unprovoked.  But if anything is a recipe for bedtime struggles, this is it.  In order to protect a reasonable bedtime, I’ll try to limit the nap to no more than one hour.  Less, if it begins too late in the day. 
And about that bedtime.  There are some napless days that seem to beg for a crazy-early, dinner-hour bedtime.  With a cranky, overtired child, it’s all we can do to make it through the meal without disaster striking.  But as hard as those evenings can be, I’ve found that it’s most beneficial to power through until at least close to their normal bedtime, so as not to start the next day before sunrise.  Try prolonging the bedtime routine with a long, playful bath, or extra stories.  Then put them down early, but not by much: thirty minutes is often both relieving and possible. 
As hard as it is to weather the napless days that come when kids start outgrowing the need for so much sleep, it’s also a little exciting.  We can take mid-day excursions again!  Stay someplace fun without skipping home to sleep! 
And those earlier bedtimes, it must be admitted, are quite the reward at the end of a long day.

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