It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Second time, same as the first

Four thousandth time, same as the first…

Yesterday was a Monday. It was Tuesday, I know, but it was “a Monday” nonetheless, the day when the tots return to daycare after a weekend at home, a weekend full of activity, adventure, different routines. A weekend full of family time and fun.

A weekend full of everything… except naps.

In this case, it was the first day back after two weeks off. I expected tired children. I expected fragile children. I expected grumpy children. And hoo, boy, did I get it. The whining! The tears! The negativity!

But that’s okay, because I have long since won the Battle of Sleep with these kids. When they get like that, I put them to bed. And they sleep. And they sleep and they sleep.

And when they wake up? They have transmogified from whiny, irritable, tear-streaked critters back into their usual chipper little selves.


In a way, I don’t really mind Mondays. Who’s going to argue with extended naptimes?

The problem is not with the children.

“How was his day?” Noah’s mommy is so sweet. She’s got such a nice way with her boy, she’s delightful with me, and she’s just so gosh-darn cute. I really like Noah’s mom.

“He started out pretty cranky, but then he had a mega nap, and he was fine.”

She is astonished to discover that he doubled his usual 1.5 – 2 hour nap into a three-hour sleepathon. The boy was TIIIIIRED. He had serious catching up to do.

The next day…

“Would you please wake Noah up after two hours today?”

“Did he have trouble falling asleep last night?” Though I’d been careful to wake him a little earlier than normal, it’s possible he slept late enough into the afternoon to mess up his evening.

“Oh, no. He was sleepy after dinner and just fell into bed at pretty much his usual time. It’s just that he woke up this morning at five.”

I have this conversation, or some variant of it, with soooo many clients. The request that I limit or eliminate the child’s naps so as to encourage sleep at home.

If it comes from a parent who has nurtured and maintained good sleeping patterns in their child, I am open and co-operative. If it comes from a parent who has never been able to help their child develop healthy sleep patterns, I am not.

Besides? Early waking because of a long nap the day before? It doesn’t work that way. If he got too much daytime sleep, he’d have had trouble falling asleep at bedtime. He didn’t. He “fell into bed”, and did it at the usual time. A pre-dawn waking is a normal night waking turned into a wake-up call. (Everyone wakes in the night, several times. Mostly we just roll over and go back to sleep. Often we don’t even know we’ve woken — but we all do.) Since he normally wakes at about 5:45 anyway, his sleep is likely getting quite light at that point in the night. He needs to learn to roll over, or at least to play quietly in his bed.

What he does not need is to lose his nap, to pile sleep-deprivation upon sleep-deprivation.

Now, in fairness, she wasn’t asking me to skip his nap, only to ensure it isn’t a protracted one. I can certainly assure her of that… because I can pretty much guarantee today’s nap won’t be protracted. He’ll wake up on his own, at his usual time.

He did his catching-up yesterday. As he does every Monday.

But maybe I won’t tell her that…

September 9, 2009 - Posted by | daycare, sleep | , , ,


  1. that all seems so frustrating (for you, I mean).

    My kids, when they take long naps, are almost impossible to put to bed at night. Me, too. So we try to keep naps to a minimum. But I’m talking about a 4 1/2 year old here, not a 2 year old.

    Emily (3.5) naps on an as-need basis, about two times a week, and generally only an hour at a stretch. By four, most kids don’t need a nap at all, unless they have very late (9 p.m. or later) bedtimes and/or a correspondingly early wake-time. So I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you!

    Comment by Bridgett | September 9, 2009 | Reply

  2. Don’t tell her. She won’t get it, anyway.

    I probably am not that great at getting my kid into a proper sleep schedule–I work evenings, so he generally doesn’t get to bed until 10:30 or 11 pm, and sleeps until 9, so he’s got a schedule, just not an early one, I guess.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t tell my kid’s babysitter to wake him up unless he’s taking a wicked late nap. If he’s sleeping 3 hours, he needs it. I’m all for a happy baby rather than a sleepy, grumpy one.

    While 11 to 9 is not standard, it’s still a solid ten hours sleep, more than many children get (poor things!). For a three year old, ten hours could be sufficient, though some will require an additional hour or so; an 18-mo is going to need a nap (maybe two) on top of that, and a 10-month-old will almost certainly need two. Depends on their age.

    Comment by MJ | September 9, 2009 | Reply

  3. I was a nap Nazi with both my kids. I was always home for naps, no excuses. And when friends are amazed that my kids didn’t give up naps until kindergarten, I smile and tell them I worked hard to earn it. My only rule has been to never let them sleep past 4pm because the 7:30 bedtime is just as sacred.

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | September 9, 2009 | Reply

  4. I don’t know why people don’t understand this. Kids fall asleep and sleep best when they’re already well rested.

    My husband and I have four kids, but we still argue about this. He waits for the kids to GET cranky/sleepy before he realizes they need to go down. I’m all about looking for that “quieter” period they have right before they start acting sleepy; it’s the best time to put them down!

    You’re quite right, of course: that quieter time is your golden moment for sleep without fussing. I’ve no idea why someone would choose to go through that to ‘cranky’ when they’ve seen the nice, quiet transition that happens when you catch it earlier. Different strokes, I guess!

    Comment by Alicia | September 9, 2009 | Reply

  5. I keep making my girlfriend read your discussions of sleep. The two of us tend to have our Mondays on Saturday: after a week of short sleep, we’re cranky and mean, and then after naps we get all sweet.

    Good sleep hygiene isn’t just for the tots!

    Comment by Becka | September 9, 2009 | Reply

  6. After 8 straight months of my two and a half y.o. son waking up to 6 times a night, we finally saw a sleep doctor and fixed his sleep. He now goes to bed at 7pm and sleeps through the night, regardless of if he had an hour nap or a three hour nap. I never wake him from a nap, if he’s still asleep then obviously he needs that sleep. He is still an early bird though, he wakes at 5.30am each day. I’m hoping this will get better with age, or he’ll learn how to turn on the TV and watch cartoons on his own for half an hour!

    Heh. I have memories of getting up early with my brother and sister, and going downstairs to turn on the television. It was too early for programming, but we didn’t care — we watched the ‘snow’ on the box! How sad is that… Strangely, I now watch no television at all.

    Comment by Tammy | September 10, 2009 | Reply

  7. I really like this post. And I thought I might ask you a question.

    My daughter (twenty-one months) has always slept quite well, but lately she’s been waking up in the middle of the night quite regularly. Sometimes she lies there groaning for half an hour and goes back to sleep, after waking me up at half past two. Sometimes she shouts for me and demands water. I give it to her, because it seems like a reasonable request, and then she goes back to sleep without a problem.

    Is there anything I can do to make her sleep through more often? Should I be giving her the water?

    (Feel free to ignore question.)

    I didn’t ignore! I replied by email.

    Comment by Mwa | September 10, 2009 | Reply

  8. As I have commented before, I always love hearing about your opinions on sleep. My 13-month-old son started daycare three weeks ago. He is sleeping for about 1.5 hours in the afternoon there. Now that I am back at work it makes me a little sad to adhere to his early bedtime (in bed asleep by 7:00, sometimes even a bit earlier) but I’m convinced that it’s the best thing for him. He is tired by then and falls asleep as soon as he hits the crib.

    The one thing I’m not sure about is morning naps. He has been taking a morning nap on the weekends, but it’s not a long one (1 hour at most, often more like 30-45 minutes). He often resists taking a morning nap at daycare, and I’m not too sure how hard they try to get him down or if they try every day or not. It’s possible that he may be in the process of consolidating to one afternoon nap, but uses the weekend morning naps as a little catch-up while his system adjusts.

    At 13 months, he could well be giving up that morning nap. Some kids still have one at 18 months, some even later, but it’s not that uncommon to lose it shortly after a year. So I’d say your read on the situation is probably correct on all three fronts: yes, he’s in the process of dropping it; yes, the daycare probably doesn’t strive too much to maintain it; and yes, your son uses weekends to catch up. I’d imagine that within a month or two, he won’t need a morning nap at all.

    Comment by Jaimie | September 10, 2009 | Reply

  9. So interested in the answer to Mwa’s question, as I have a 19 month old also waking in the night and early in the morning. Mine doesn’t need water, just a cuddle.

    How do you get them to “roll over or play quietly” in the mornings? Tough love?

    Please don’t ignore the question as Mwa suggested! Thank you from an Australian fan.

    Yes, tough love. Nineteen months isn’t too young to be told, calmly but firmly, “Night-times are for sleeping. Go to sleep.” And then you tough out the protests. It’s nasty for you while it’s happening, but the long-term benefits for both of you are well worth it.

    For the night-time wakings, you can try putting in a special stuffed toy as a decoy (“give Snuggie a hug”), but, in all honesty, while it does work for a few kids (and their lucky, lucky, parents!) it’s not often tremendously effective. For the early-morning play, however, a few toys at the bottom of the crib can be very effective at getting you an extra half-hour.

    One of my clients (at my advice) just calls to her child (from her nice warm bed in the next room), “It’s sleep-time, love. Night-night!”, and says that has really served to pretty much eliminate the night-time demands for time and attention.

    Comment by H | September 17, 2009 | Reply

  10. I was staying with friends. We all went out, me to my class reunion, them to dinner. I returned before they did. Their 4-yr-old and 2-yr-old were still up. At 9:30 p.m. I asked the sitter what was going on. Oh they don’t want to go to bed, she told me. She had brought her own kids and all were up and cranky.

    Kids should be in bed by 9:30, I said. (I don’t have kids but duh! You don’t have to be a parent to know bad parenting.)

    I put the kids in bed. The 2-yr-old screamed for 20 minutes. The sitter smiled knowingly at me. I glared at her. He was screaming from exhaustion, lady. Finally, they were both asleep.

    When my friends came home, they were shocked to learn that the sitter wasn’t putting the kids to bed. I guess it hadn’t occurred to them that someone would be that dumb.

    Comment by class factotum | September 24, 2009 | Reply

  11. Just wanted to say a belated thank you! We had a few good nights there, but tough love starts again today.
    Thanks again – keep up the great blog!

    Comment by H | October 8, 2009 | Reply

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