Preserving the Toddler Nap

For the past nearly 18 months, we’ve been very lucky: aside from those initial tough first couple of weeks, Maya’s been a great sleeper. Which you know means #2 someday will be a terrible sleeper. And eater. And everything else!

Anyway, because she’s been on the petite side (albeit with delicious rolls galore on her arms and legs) she was in the infant carrier until 15 months – meaning she could easily sleep anywhere and stay asleep upon arrival at our destination — no shifting or carrying required.

The first two months of her life, we just toted her everywhere and let her sleep whenever/wherever. She was a great travel buddy and since it was too early to sleep train (IMO) we just lived our life and she came along for the ride. This was all well and good … until it wasn’t.

Once she hit the 11-week mark and I was prepping to go back to work, thanks to some prodding from my mom and tips from Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, we got her on the all-important organized daytime sleep schedule — which (surprise, surprise!) led to a consistent evening sleep schedule (i.e., at that time — 9 PM – 6 AM; within a couple weeks to become 7 PM-7AM and, recently, 730PM-7AM).

This is when she began taking two consistent naps: once around 10 AM for about 30-60 min, and then around 2 PM for 60-90 minutes, give or take. Once she started at daycare at 12 weeks, they really helped enforce this schedule and I had no complaints; it was easy to plan our days around her — we had early mornings free and then a wide open period between 11:30-2 most days. But then in the Wobbler Room, she weaned down to one nap a day most days (in the PM) and now in the Toddler Room, she has a solid 2+ hour nap from 12-2, sometimes 3. (Don’t ask me how they get 12 rowdy toddlers to all nap at the exact same time on little cots … seriously, it blows my mind even when I watch the webcam!)

So at school, she’s a rock-star because, well, her teachers are rock-stars — they follow a consistent routine and there’s magic in that. The trouble is at home — or, should I say, the problem is us, her parents. We’ve kind of sucked lately. It sounds bad, but we have things to do/places to go, and Maya’s naps “interfere” with that freedom … or so it’s seemed … and I’m realizing we can’t live that way any longer.

Sometimes she has needed a morning nap on weekends — and while we used to give it to her, we’ve been resisting it lately, to get her on a most consistent schedule — like at school. But depending on our plans, sometimes we have encouraged her to nap earlier and then again later in the afternoon. And other times, even if she’s been tired, we’ve pushed her til noon to keep her consistent with her daycare schedule. Sometimes this backfires and you result in an overtired toddler … no fun for anyone.

We’ve been able to — dare I say it — manipulate her sleep all this time. What awesome/awful parents we are 😉

Well, someone is surely laughing … because those days are officially gone.

This most recent vacation proved to us that things are a’changin … forcing us to grasp the real value — and necessity — of her regular 12-2 nap. She needs that routine–it’s what is consistent with school, where she spends 4 out of 7 days a week. That schedule means outside play from 10-1030 (bring on the sleepies!), lunch around 11, diaper change, and nap by noon.

So yes, it feels like a crimp in our fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants weekend style. But baby girl needs her zzzzs. We need to respect that and work around her, versus the other way around.

We learned our lesson the hard way. In Mexico, she literally crashed in Luis’s arms on the subway each morning. Then, because we got back to the hotel two hours too late for her afternoon nap, the evening of the wedding we went to Mexico for, she was beyond over-tired and it took her a half hour to nap … and then we had to (shame on us!) wake her to leave for the wedding. (Oy).

Now … lest you think we are totally awful parents, had this been plans to go out to dinner or a friend’s party or something, we surely would have let her sleep and taken two cars to accommodate her needs. But we’d flown thousands of miles for this wedding (4:30 PM, mind you!) and we needed to get a ride with family. Plus, Mexico City is enormous … not to mention slightly dangerous — so yes, we went against our better judgment and woke her up after just 40 minutes. Let me tell you — for a kid who really doesn’t cry much, the screaming fit she threw was epic … and I felt awful.

For all my insecurities as a new-ish mom, this was my first time honestly feeling like a terrible parent — because we knew we weren’t doing what was best for Maya but, given the circumstances, we had to do what we had to do. It was a no-win scenario. We should have gotten back to the hotel earlier to preserve her nap … but we didn’t. And we all suffered for it.

Which is why things need to change.

Now, I’m not being Pollyanna here — I realize life happens and some days will not be perfect … but we can do our best to avoid an overtired meltdown. Mostly, we need to block off the window of 12-3 for her nap each day (some days at home she will sleep for three hours). This means making breakfast and dinner plans and having play-dates either early in the day or late afternoon, leaving the middle of the day as sacred sleep time. Husband is on board, too — he’s seen first-hand what an overtired Maya is like and let’s just say, she isn’t his sweet princess when she’s pissed!! 😉 Basically, we need to put her needs first — and we weren’t always doing that.

I’m learning. In fact, today, I asked my art director for a different time slot for Maya’s part of our upcoming United Way photo shoot when the time she requested was smack in the middle of her nap. Whereas before I might have said yes and just made it happen, this time I put Maya’s needs first — and I felt good about that. Unfortunately, this coming weekend is a day at the zoo I have organized for work and we’re starting at 1 PM for a whole host of reasons and I need to be there at the start. It’s too far for us to take two cars, so I think the best I can do is see if she’ll nap at 11 and then in the car on the way there and on the way home (30 min. each way). Sigh. I know it’s not ideal, but some degree of flexibility is key, too. I just think we were just being TOO flexible …

I know how important sleep at any age is, and we will make it our mission to preserve this nap for her — on her terms!!!

How about you? Were your kids good nappers? Did you have that “oh-crap” moment like we did, when you realized you can’t manipulate their sleep anymore?

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