“Okay, guys. Naptime!”
“Not me!” says Gwynn. She has said this every day for the last three weeks. Every day, she denies that naptime applies to her just-turned-two self, and every day I say, “Yes, you, silly,” and escort her to bed. Where she falls asleep. Every day.
Today I take a different approach. After I have put the babies down in their cribs, I return to the kitchen, where Gwynn sleeps on a low to the floor toddler cot. She is sitting on it, playing with a small toy. Her pillow is at one end, her sheet folded neatly at the other.
I stand beside the cot, so she has to look up, waaaaay up, to see me. “So, Gwynn. You think you don’t need a nap?”
That catches her attention. I haven’t spoken in a challenging or derisive way.
Note: I am never sarcastic with the kids. In my own head, I’m often ironic, but that’s in my own head. Once in a while I say something wry that I know will go shooting wildly right over their heads, just for my personal entertainment. But sarcasm? Sneering? Mean-spirited humour? Nope. I feel very strongly that using sarcasm with a small child is simply unkind. They don’t understand sarcasm. It confuses them. They certainly understand the emotion behind it is negative, but they are not yet cognitively capable of processing that kind of duality. Besides, it’s just mean.
So when I ask that question, I am playing it straight. I am confirming that she thinks naps are unnecessary. That is not all I am doing, but Gwynn doesn’t know that… and doesn’t need to.
From her seat at the edge of the cot, she tips her head waaaay back to look at me. “No. I don’t want a nap.” Now, any adult knows that ‘want’ and ‘need’ are two quite different things. Gwynn doesn’t want a nap, no, but I am quite convinced that she still needs one. Gwynn makes no such distinction, of course. She doesn’t want one. She doesn’t want one, and that’s that. ‘Need’ is irrelevant. She, however, is pleased to be having this conversation. Maybe Mary is finally going to be reasonable about this whole nap thing!!
“Well, here’s what I was thinking,” I begin. Gwynn, finding this head-tipping thing a bit awkward, lies back with her head on her pillow to better see me. “What I was thinking was that, since you are a Big Girl now, maybe you don’t need a nap. So here’s what we’ll do.”
Gwynn’s eyes are riveted on mine. Big Girl? No nap? This is all very hopeful! She lies very still, hanging on my every word.
“What we’ll do, from now on, is, instead of naptime, you will have quiet time. You can have a toy or a book. You don’t have to sleep, but you do have to stay on your cot. You can play quietly. Does that sound good?”
She nods. She blinks. I keep talking, quietly, steadily.
“You can stay awake and play quietly. You can go to sleep if you want. You just have to stay on the coat. You have to stay on the cot. You have to use your quiet time voice. But you don’t have to sleep. So long as you have a quiet time, I don’t mind if you stay awake. It will be all right. You can just have a rest. You can rest and play quietly and not get up and just be calm and …”
Aaaaaand that’s it. Gwynn is out for the count.
The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Naptime reins.
Top of the top of the top of my pet peeves with parents. Bar none.
Worse than parents who…
… can’t say no to their child.
… are chronically late at the end of the day.
… don’t call when they’ll be late dropping off the child.
… call me “the babysitter”.
… refuse to leave before they’ve calmed their baby (and thus spend 15 minutes winding the poor child up)
… consistently forget to send diapers, changes of clothes, or other necessities
… are inexcusably late picking up a sick child
… send a sick child to daycare
I’ve seen all those, and yes, they’re annoying to one degree or another. But the thing that really, really annoys me, possibly because it’s the thing I see the most frequently, bar none…
Are the ones who expect me to pick up their napping slack. The ones who say that they’re SURE their child doesn’t need a nap any more. They’re sure, because if the child has a nap, the child “just won’t go to sleep” at night.
Which, on the surface of it, sounds reasonable enough. There does come a certain point where a child no longer needs a daytime nap. For some children, that can be as young as 22 or 24 months. (Not often, but occasionally.) Some children are still needing naps at four. (Not often, but sometimes.)
A lot depends on patterns at home, of course. A child with an early bedtime (6 – 7:30 or so) will be able to give up the afternoon nap before the child who’s up till 9:00. Only makes sense.
If I have a family who has always encouraged sane and sensible sleep patterns with their child, I am always co-operative. In fact, only last week, I was the one suggesting to that parent that her daughter probably didn’t need a nap any more. Mum was describing bedtimes which have become steadily later over the preceding weeks, greatly extended periods of chat and activity before sleep finally arrived. I know this family has always had a consistent bedtime. I know the child’s sleep quirks. She’s not a perfect sleeper, but she falls well within normal, and her parents have always responded sensibly, as they are now.
“Let’s try dropping the nap for a week, and see what happens,” I said. This is her fourth day without a nap. Mum, Dad and I are working together, noting changes in night-time sleep patterns, daytime energy levels, mood, appetite… all those things that can be affected by sleep. I suspect she will only need occasional naps from here on in.
So, though I do enjoy my quiet oasis of nap time, I don’t put my quiet hour or two above a child’s genuine need. Emily hasn’t napped in about a year; Tyler naps some, but not all, days. Child-free naptimes are WONDERFUL, but if a child genuinely doesn’t need a nap… well, they don’t. I deal.
I’m not talking about that kind of parent, though. I’m talking about the ones who have never managed to establish consistent, age-appropriate sleep patterns. Year-old babies go all weekend without a nap. Fifteen-month-olds go to bed at ten at night. Eighteen-month-olds are waking multiple times most nights. Bedtimes vary by as much as two hours, wake times are similarly unpredictable. These children arrive on Mondays with dark shadows under their eyes, irritable, whiny and either lethargic or in manic overdrive. They are obviously, chronically, consistently sleep-deprived. I hate this as much as I’d hate it if I knew a child weren’t being fed properly, and was malnourished. It’s not about convenience, it’s about health.
And, very often, sometime in the second year of these children’s lives, their parents get the brilliant idea that the reason their child won’t go to bed at a decent hour is not because of any of those things. No! The problem originates elsewhere. This poor, weary, sleep-deprived urchin makes bedtime a misery because they’re getting TOO MUCH sleep! And if I would only agree to skip the naps, everything at home would be perfect.
Bugs the ever-living crap out of me.
I don’t say so, of course. “You people are making me crazy!!!!” That would be unkind, rude, unprofessional, and unhelpful. I want this problem fixed. I just don’t agree that their solution will result in a well-rested child. And that’s what we all want, right?
So, instead of laughing in their faces and out-right refusing, I suggest that I would be open to eliminating naps if I had a better idea of what their current patterns are. Which is only true, and only sensible. “We can’t effectively alter the sleep patterns until we know what they are.” I mean that. I may believe that their current problems are only the result of a year or two of poor patterns… I may believe that, but I could be wrong. It’s been known to happen.
Therefore, I ask parents to keep a sleep log. I provide the charts to fill. They keep one and I keep one, for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, I say, we will combine our charts and see what they tell us.
A blind experiment, I call it, where neither side sees the data the other has, so expectations don’t skew perceptions. (And to prevent, as happened on one memorable occasion, the parents fudging their charting to get the results they wanted. Here’s a tip: It’s silly to lie about something like that when your regular evening babysitter is your childcare provider’s daughter…)
With the charting in hand, we usually spot the problem easily. And usually — not always, but usually — it’s nothing to do with daycare. The first time I did this with a family, they called me on the weekend at the end of the second week. “We don’t need to keep up with the charting. We thought we had a consistent bedtime with occasional exceptions. The chart’s shown us that it’s his bedtime that’s the exception!”
That was nice. Moreover, they were appreciative of the exercise. That was nice, too.
Because it’s not intended as a trick to trip them up. Truly, it’s not, though I suspect some parents see it that way, as a test they can pass or fail. It’s not a test. It’s information-seeking. I want to know what we’re dealing with here, what the baseline is so that we can evaluate if our actions are resulting in the desired changes. If you don’t know what your starting point is, how do you know how far you’ve travelled? If you don’t know what the current situation is, how can you plan your strategy and evaluate its efficacy? Has the situation changed? If so, by how much? If not, why not? How do you answer any of these questions without information? You need DATA.
But do you know what? When I suggest the charting, about 80% of the contenders drop out of the race. Keeping a sleep log for three weeks is too much work? Or they know in their hearts the data wouldn’t support their position? Or it’s that fear of failing the test? I dunno. I just know that my suggestion, which is made quite sincerely, almost always results in the issue being dropped. I genuinely find that odd.
(Gratifying in some instances, she chortles evilly, but odd nonetheless.)
I want the child to be happy and healthy, and part of that includes being well-rested. I will work with the parents to achieve that. I will not, however, do the work for them.
It genuinely distresses me to see pale, weary, unhappy sleep-deprived children. If a parent’s strategy for getting their child to sleep at night is to drive them to the point of bleary-eyed, blithering exhaustion… well, don’t expect me to co-operate.
And if they expect me to make such changes without any data, and only on their say-so?
It won’t happen.