Full disclosure: I am probably not the best person to give anyone advice on naps, or any aspect of child sleep habits for that matter. My own son didn't sleep through the night until he was 17 months old (!), making my husband and me feel as if we were taking part in some secret government sleep deprivation experiment. And as for naptime, we ended that pretty early when we were desperately trying to encourage nighttime sleep.
So it's a great relief when Kathleen Alfano, Ph.D., Fisher-Price's Former Director of Child Research, tells me that there's a big variation in babies' and toddlers' sleep patterns, including how long, how often and until what age different children nap.
"The important thing is to make sure the children have enough time to rest; their bodies need it," she explains. "Some children sleep very long at night and don't need naps after infancy, while other kids might be taking an afternoon and even a morning nap at age three or four."
How can you tell when it's time for your toddler to give up a nap? "A parent will know," says Dr. Alfano. "Every child is different. I have a three-year-old niece who stopped taking naps when she was one. But I also know five-year-olds who still take an afternoon nap."
Whether or not your toddler still naps each day, having some quiet time every afternoon is still important. "Parents, day care staff, and preschool teachers can take steps to make naptime or quiet time happen," says Dr. Alfano. "They can turn down the lights, shut off the music (or only play very soft music), talk in a quiet or sing-songy voice. They set the stage for resting." This quiet time, she explains, helps young children learn to settle down and control their bodies.
My son sounds a bit like Dr. Alfano's nap-averse young niece. When he started a preschool program at age three, there was a mandatory hour naptime after lunch. I had to explain to his teachers that I really didn't want him to sleep during the day. If he did, I knew he'd be awake until midnight. So when the class went to sleep on their mats, my son didn't have to lie down or nap, although he did have to stay quietly on his few square feet of mat, looking at books, playing with toys or puzzles, drawing with crayons. And while he was squirmy at first, he soon learned to use that time for quiet play.
If you've got a non-sleeper like I did, take heart. My son did learn to stay on his mat at preschool and now that he's older he has no trouble sleeping at all. In fact, some mornings now, it's difficult to wake him up for school!
Beth Weinhouse is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about parenting issues and women's health. She's been an editor at Ladies' Home Journal and Parenting magazines, and her work has appeared in dozens of consumer magazines and websites.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.