How to Get a Child to Nap Until Four Years Old and Beyond

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Sometimes I feel like a unicorn after I tell people that my four year olds still take naps. They cock their heads, mumble something about how their 2 year old stopped napping already, how they actually like the freedom of not having nap time, or how they implement a quiet time every day instead. It seems to me that many don’t know how to get a child to nap every day.

*My affiliate links are used in this post. Thank you.*How to get child to take a nap everyday even until they are 4 year olds!

In my daily interactions, it seems I’m the oddball who has children who still take naps, most days, as four year olds. While one of my daughters, Lisa, is much more hit or miss on taking naps, and has always been so, she does still go down every day for a “nap” even if most days lately it looks more like a period of “quiet time.”

But, I guess you could call me a nap Nazi. I do plan our lives around naps. I do work hard to be home at nap time and not out. I do plan meetings and get together around naps. And I really don’t believe in waking sleeping babies and hate doing it anytime I do, even if my child is napping late in the day.  I think naps are extremely important for children. It helps their brain development, their physical growth, and most importantly their happiness and my sanity.

The fact of the matter is, I value my children’s sleep. I value their mental health and low crankiness levels. I value their growing bodies. And I also value my respite during the day.

So, yes, I may be a “slave” to the nap time clock, and have been for the last four years, but I generally love it, appreciate it, and take some pride in my stubbornness at keeping nap time firmly a part of our lives. Because, getting a child to nap until the age of four is not an easy task.  If it was easy most people probably wouldn’t stop the napping at two and a half year olds. If it was easy you probably wouldn’t be reading this post!

And I don’t pick that two year old mark as some arbitrary number. It really does seem to be a common age for children to start actively resisting nap time. Their independence is flourishing, their language is soaring, and their memory is beginning. Lots are out of cribs and into toddler beds, which present the unique challenge of keeping your child contained and still enough to fall asleep. With the freedom of their rooms, children get distracted and restless.

The nap time battle of wills has begun!

The "Joys" of Nap Time Battles... Helpful advice on getting your kid to take a nap every day!

It was around the 2 year mark that we ran into our first big nap time hurdles. Our children were in toddler beds/mattresses on the floor, and gone were the days of laying our twins in their separate cribs and having them play for a few minutes and then happily pass out 20-30 minutes later. Once they started climbing out of their cribs, we switched to toddler beds, which was an adventure in of itself.

So, when our 2 year olds stopped napping, we initially started with removing everything from their bedrooms, aka removing distractions. However, because we have twins, we couldn’t remove the best distraction they had – each other. I mean, I guess we could have put them in separate bedrooms, but since they could climb out of pack n’ plays, we did not trust them enough to put one in a different room where they could get out and mess/destroy all of our, the parent’s, stuff. (We tried a few times.) Anyway, so our best bet was making their room like a prison cell. Nothing but mattresses on the floor. Eventually we even locked up their dresser that was in their bedroom closet as they would remove socks from their drawer and stuff them down the air register. We also bolted down the air register cover as they would pull it off and then stand on it to turn on the light in their room.

Essentially, nap times were infuriating! We came in and out of their room a gazillion times, yelled at them, put them back on their beds, talked to them, disciplined them, held them tight to have them settle down, laid with them, adjusted the start of nap time and bed time, tried bribes, and more!

It was a mess. It was cray cray (crazy). And it was during this time we first heard those “yeah, my kids gave up naps at that age.” It was clear why they did if they were anything like my twin daughters!

But we got through that nap-resisting two-year-old stage by implementing the 10-step sleep method I talked about in an old post. Basically it goes as follows:

How to get toddler to nap every day - advice from a mom of twins who's kids still take a nap at 4 years old!

How to Get A Child to Nap – Sleep Method

  • Stay in the room with your kid(s) until the fall asleep.
  • Don’t yell at them.
  • Don’t talk to them.
  • Don’t look at them.
  • Don’t snuggle with them.
  • And put them back on their bed (calmly) each and every time they get off of it.

We did that for a year. Every. Single. Day. At nap time and frequently bedtime too.

And it so absolutely worked.The first month or so was a tad rough, especially on my husband and I, trying to keep our cool, trying to not hate sitting on the floor for thirty minutes or an hour, biting our tongues, angrily stewing that our children were not calming down (still!). But, after a while all it would take is 5 minutes. Literally five minutes of sitting in their room with them at nap time or bedtime until they were completed asleep. It was amazing!!

Gone were the fights, the tantrums, the running around, the destroying their room, the stress, the anxiety. In their place was a quiet home for 2-3 hours, a more-rested mama (cause I would often take a nap myself as I was pregnant at the time), an easy bedtime, more time to relax, read, put my feet up, shower, blog, whatever! An investment on the front end of nap time means naps happen and they happen quicker. It is so worth it.

Eventually, we didn’t want to sit in their room at all and we slowly faded out of sitting in their room at all. And it usually worked just fine. Occasionally, they were extra worked up so we ended up sitting in there with them still.

Now, our nap times are a little different as we let our children nap on the couch. Since I am downstairs with them either in the kitchen or at our computer, it’s essentially like I am “sitting” with them in their room. Most days, assuming they are tired enough, they take a nap on the couch just fine.

But, here are more tips for getting a child to nap past age 2:

  • Blackout Curtains
  • Limited distractions in their rooms/cribs.
  • White Noise Machine or fan
  • Regular, consistent nap time. Adjust the start time as necessary as they age.
  • Routine. Simple is good. Lunch, then nap. 2 Books, then nap. Whatever, then nap.
  • Fair warning. This goes with routine, but my kids knew that every day after lunch it was nap time because I told them it was.
  • Good physical activity in the morning. There is definitely truth in the concept of “wearing them out.”
  • Make sure they are fed and have clean diapers/empty bladders before nap.
  • Special blankets if they have one.
  • No food/fun activities if they don’t nap during official “nap time” which I usually have as at least 2 hours.
  • Only quiet activities (books, coloring, puzzles) if they just don’t seem like a nap will happen today.
  • Keep at it!! Some days/weeks will be hard. But, still put your child down for a nap each day.

Again, getting a four year old to nap every day, is not an easy thing all the time. And some children are so way easier than others. I know! One of my daughters is so easy! She loves napping. She absolutely still needs a nap every day. I know this because if we skip regular nap time, she has been known to pass out around dinner time or shortly after, or pass out in cars, or whenever it’s quiet enough/she’s bored enough. How to get your child to take a nap every day, easy sleeper or not! As a mom of twins, she had one of each.

Whereas her sister Lisa is much more difficult and takes what seems like forever to fall asleep, if she ever does. She is way more hit or miss with actually napping, and tries just about everything to not take a nap each day. With twins, I found it best to at least stay in the room (with method above) until Alison, my easy sleeper, at least fell asleep and Lisa was calm. If one was asleep, usually it deterred the other enough to take a nap too, although we often had the problem of Lisa waking up her sister before nap time was over either on purpose, or because she was making too much noise playing with something in their room.

My point is, be flexible. Some kids really do seem to need more sleep than others. Some may not need a nap everyday. Others definitely do. But, I do believe Lisa benefits from the quiet time on the days she isn’t napping. And be sure to adjust that nap time! Some time the biggest problem was when nap time started. We’ve had the start of nap time as early as 10:30am and currently as late as 2-2:30pm. My kids have always taken fairly long naps too, at least two hours and often three hours. I am not one to wake up my kids after a certain amount of time, unless they took a really late nap, and not waking them presents the risk of a super late bedtime for the night. But, other people wake up their kids after 2.5 hours or whatever.

I hope you can find success with your nap time endeavors and with the least amount of stress, worry, and drama involved. Just remember that some days a nap just isn’t going to happen, but to try again the next day, and to just make it a part of life! If you need more practical sleep tips for an everyday mama, be sure to check out the ebook For the Love of Sleep!

Now go enjoy yourself during those nap times!

What tips do you have for getting your child to nap until four or even five? Or when did you end nap time for your child?

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Comments

  1. says

    Glad I’m not the only nap Nazi out there. People always think I’m crazy that I’ve always planned our lives around jack’s naps, and bedtimes, but it has been SO worth it. He is a great sleeper now, and loves his naps. I won’t give them up until fights me tooth and nail. He usually goes down at noon and wakes up at three. I also don’t believe in waking a sleeping baby. If they sleep longer, it’s for a reason! If jack doesn’t get a nap, he is sooo grumpy! And so am I 😉

    • says

      I totally think it’s worth it too. If my kids don’t nap, they are so moody! Lisa gets defiant and oppositional before bed, and Alison does too. I don’t want to deal with moody kids! I want to hang out with my lovely daughters. 🙂

  2. Chelsea Decker says

    We used to do rest time in kindergarten (now we don’t, but that’s another story), and I always had one girl fall asleep. Most of the time it was me trying to keep everyone quiet, like how you described, and it was a nightmare. Now I’m a little relieved I don’t have to put up with that half hour everyday, but I worry for those kids that still need that 20 min nap or so.

    • says

      I think all day kindergarten can be hard for some kids, and with stricter cut off dates, some of the kids are almost a year older than others, which I’m sure can make a huge difference for them! I can’t imagine having to try to get a whole classroom of kids to take a nap! Two was a challenge enough! I might be relieved to give it up too.

  3. says

    Katelyn you are now officially my hero! At 18 months we have days when one or other twin goes on a Nap Strike, we usually make sure they have quiet time, though they so desperately want to go wake the other one! I am a huge believer in plenty of sleep being needed for mental health and concentration so I really hope we can keep up napping until they’re 4!

  4. Jennifer says

    My 7 yr old still has quite time in the summer and on the weekends, we all need a little time to ourselves each day.
    My 4 yr old and my 15 mo old share a room, so as soon as the baby is asleep, we all go do quite time. Sometimes my 4 yr old sleeps and I never wake him.
    He did regular naps until about his 4th birthday.
    I’m pregnant with twins, so I often nap during this period as well, as long as the 4 yr old is staying in his room. Or I relax, read blogs and forums, etc.

    • says

      Jennifer – Congrats on your upcoming twins! Love twins! You keep those babies in there a nice long time and way they be healthy when they come. And sounds like you have a pretty good thing going on in your house with the quiet/nap time. Way to go mom! And thanks for spending naptime today reading my blog. 😉

  5. April says

    We have always been big on naps. My three year old had been a great sleeper until recently. I also have an 18 month old. Nap time got tricky because they share a room. Staying on there seems like a great idea. Have you had any problems with them staying up to late. My 3 year old has started having a really hard time going to bed at night when she naps. I’ve tried earlier naps, but she still awake hours after bedtime. I’ve been known for being an early bedtime nazi . so u tried letting her go to bed at 7:30 or 8 instead but it doesn’t help. If she naps she’s awake (in her room) until around 10 or 10:30. Boo! What time do you all do bedtime? Have you had any trouble with not falling asleep at bedtime?

    • says

      April – YES! My husband is attributing it more to the fact that it is summer and that our kids have always had a harder time with early bedtimes in the summer, which is true! Despite the black out curtains and everything, it’s still light and they just seem to have more energy every summer. And the later the naps, the bigger of a problem it is. However, we still start bedtime around 8 or 8:30pm but our girls haven’t actually been falling asleep lately until 10:30pm! That’s crazy for a 4 year old, especially if Lisa didn’t end up taking a nap that day. Some nights we’ve put Lisa to bed (because she doesn’t always nap) at 8pm without her sister, and she has fallen right asleep. This is especially necessary on those days she’s extra crazy tired in the evenings. Because, if Lisa has any distractions (i.e. her twin sister) she’ll stay awake well past her tired point. Juggling sleep times is such a balancing act!

  6. says

    Glad to see its not just me – our 4yo twins still nap 99% of the time and my 6yo takes a nap once a week. Occasionally, our 8yo will even nap. They all know after lunch is quiet/nap time and nothing fun is happening for 2 hours.

  7. Tiffany H says

    Yay to a napping house! My almost three year old and my four (4 yrs 7 months) year old nap daily. Another thing we have in our routine is they get at least 30 minutes of unstructured playtime before lunch and naps, (sometimes this pushes nap time back a bit). I don’t know why, but that has helped a ton in keeping naps going. Otherwise, all your points are pretty much spot on what we do in our house. I think kids are more likely to fight it if some days it isn’t important to the parents. I also see periods of attempted refusal with illness. My kids started the climbing routine around 17 months so I have moved them out of the crib shortly thereafter. I just put them back to bed over and over and over.

    I do think that some households have non-nappers because they expect their kids to stay in bed/sleep for 12 hours a night. Or they vary a lot on what time they go to bed or get up so that some nights are extremely variable in length. I will get my kids up in the morning if they are sleeping past the time that will allow them to have enough hours before they will be expected to nap.

    I nap most days too, which allows me to stay up late with my night owl husband. =)

  8. Marta says

    Thank you for this great article/blog entry! I’m also very much pro nap and pro routine mum. Just like you I plan our days around Anna’s sleep time. She’s just two and a half and has her naps no problem. I will try to do my best to keep up the good work and your article is an inspiration that it can be done! xx

  9. Hayley says

    I value my child’s sleep too… That’s why she doesn’t nap! If she were to sleep during the day, she is not tired enough to do so until late afternoon. And if she does that, she will not fall sleep at bedtime until all hours of the night. So because I value her sleep AND my sanity, I gave up on naps.

  10. Lianna says

    As an in-home child care provider, one of my most successful strategies is that *I* am always the one who decides when naptime is over. Nap is over when I turn on the lights, open the curtains, and turn off the fan. When the kids trust me to wake them when it’s time, they learn to just go back to sleep or wait patiently until I come wake them. Sometimes when a child is new, we go through a phase where they think they can get up and play or call out my name when they *want* to wake up, but they soon learn to just relax and settle in. 🙂 ALL of my kids, ages 0-5, take naps every single day.

  11. says

    Our almost 5 year old (next month) still takes daily naps. There are occasional Saturdays where we are out and about and it just doesn’t happen, but if we are home, he takes a nap. I can’t imagine that some parents are willing to give that up at 2?! Our 2 and 1/2 year old is not getting out of napping any time soon :)!

    I kind of worry about my olderst going into kindergarten next year….. he will suddenly have no more naps like he has had for all of his 5 years of life. Is this a problem for any of you out there???

    I can’t imagine staying in their rooms until they fall asleep though. To me this is part of my time to re-coop, sometimes they can take a while to finally go to sleep. Our rule is that they are not allowed out of their bed. They can have a book and a stuffed animal, but no toys. If someone gets out, then they are put back in (sometimes over and over….) But at this point, they know they are not allowed to get out and it is usually not too big of a battle.

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. says

    My son is not yet 2, so we are definitely still taking naps. I’m big on naps because I know he needs them. He can be tough to fall asleep but while he is still in his crib is makes things easier. We can just leave the room and he falls asleep on his own. When we went down the shore and he was in his own big boy bed on the floor it was a different story. I definitely had to stay with him until he fell asleep or else he would get up and play. I know it’s going to be a pain once he reaches that point of being out of his crib, but I guess we’ll deal with it! Sharing.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing. Cribs are helpful. My son has always preferred it to sleeping like anywhere else. Silly boy. Good luck when transitions happen. You can do it!

  13. says

    Summer or any season change shouldn’t cause any change in their sleep. No 4 year old is doing well with being awake at 10.30pm – thats just showing they no longer need a day time sleep but everyone needs quiet time everyday so a nap can be swapped for that.

    My 5 1/2 yr old stop napping at 4yrs and is fast asleep every night by 7pm sometimes 6.30pm. Awake and alive at 6am. His 3 1/2 yr old brother still naps 2 hours a day and same bedtime along with their 21 month old sister sleeping 2 or more hours a day. She wakes at 7am and is out cold by 7pm. Bedtime is not an issue at naptime or night as long as everyday they burn energy – bikes, playgrounds, running, up and down our stairs with games if weather is bad.

    But going to bed late for little ones and adults is sooooo bad for their mental abilities and overall health. We all need to be going to bed a lot earlier then we think and resting quietly everyday is essential.

  14. says

    Oh and for the problem of climbing out of cribs, dress them in baby/toddler sleeping bags. They can’t undo them and can’t climb wearing those.

  15. Molly says

    So glad I’m not the only one who cares this much about kids napping! My 4 1/2 year old still needs and takes a nap every day – occasionally he will fight it, or we will miss it, but it’s rare. If he does go in spurts where he fights it I will tell him he has to lay completely still, eyes closed, no talking – for 5 minutes to earn quiet time. I usually give him 10 minutes and go back to check on him, and he’s almost always asleep. The first few times he struggled with it, he would still talk or be playing, but after a while it started working. But I definitely get weird looks when people find out he still takes naps!

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