I often jokingly say that one of the worst days of parenting for my wife and me was the day our oldest figured out that he could get out of his bed at nap and bed times. From that moment on, we had to do some of our best parenting to keep him focused on sleep and not running wild in his room, coming out of his room to ask for a drink, or demanding that he be allowed more play time.
At the end of a long and exhausting day, it can be easy for parents to lose their tempers, which often only exacerbates and prolongs the situation. The tips below are meant to help parents maintain their sanity and employ patient techniques during such a stressful time.
1. Return to Bed
The most direct way to reinforce that nap and bed times will be honored is to return your child to bed each and every time they try to leave their room. You might have to station yourself outside of your child's bedroom door for a period of time but eventually your child will get the message.
2. Keep Communication Brief
A crucial piece of surviving nap and bed times when your child is acting up is to keep communication to a minimum. This might take some getting used to, but you need to try to avoid eye contact and talking while putting your child back in his room. By doing this, you avoid engaging your child and escalating the situation. Oftentimes, it seems that children want to drag out the process — asking for extra water, another toy to play with or for you to lay down with them. Following this rule can help you avoid those pitfalls.
3. Remove Trigger Objects
Our children's rooms are filled with their favorite toys. If they cannot calm themselves for nap or bed times because they are too consumed with toys, then you should think about removing some of those objects from the room — at least until this phase has passed.
4. Quiet Time Trunk
You could think about finding soothing items — books, stuffed animals, a small puzzle — that you could place in a "quiet time trunk" and allow your child to play with while they wind down for nap or bed time. You can ask your child to help you select those items and explain when she'd be able to use them.
5. Be Consistent
Probably the most important thing you can do is to remain consistent throughout this process. If you bend, your child will pounce and you'll be back where you started with a child who comes out of his room or demands the sun and moon before settling down to sleep. Once you've decided to go this route, stick with it, be consistent and the rewards should follow.
6. Patience Is a Must
The easiest thing to do when going through anything challenging with your children is to lose patience, lash out, and regret your words or actions mere minutes later. By removing the conversation with your child from the nap or bed time equation, you are eliminating a major impediment to a smooth process. This should also help you keep your cool, which will significantly improve your chances of changing your child's behavior.
7. End of Nap Time?
If this is becoming a major, ongoing problem at nap and bed times, it might be time to rethink your child's sleep habits. Once children reach 3-4 years of age, the afternoon nap will likely disappear. If nap time is a headache, removing it and allowing your child to have "quiet" time might eliminate this troublesome process. It also might help your child fall asleep faster and earlier at night because they'll be truly tuckered out.