Fatherhood: Nap time, the phrase no child wants to hear

Helpful tips for fathers and men who want to become fathers

by Morris Turner

Morris-Turner’s-grandson-Marcelo-2, Fatherhood: Nap time, the phrase no child wants to hear, Culture Currents
Morris Turner’s grandson, Marcelo, 2, with his favorite book

Please note: The following information and suggestions are based on my experience as a parent and preschool teacher. From my observations, the formal creation of a specific nap time usually occurs between the ages of 2 and 5 years old.

Naps are great for children and adults as well, so why is it that our children see them as a punishment rather than a cheerful opportunity? Let’s start by looking at how naps develop and where the challenges begin.

Newborn babies and infants typically fall asleep after eating and that routine carries on throughout the day and night. As children grow, get stronger and better able to understand and maneuver around their environment, they begin to test their personal power. They stay awake a little longer and become what I call “cranky” from overtiredness. They need a break in the action but don’t know how to do it for themselves. This is where you, the parent, come in.

To create a successful nap time experience for your child as well as yourself, there are several key elements that have to be considered.

1) You must understand that children need “down time” at some point in the day which allows them to re-charge and also gives you a breather and time to catch up on daily tasks.

2) Going from activity to activity means that there are many transition periods in your daily schedule. Nap time is just one of those transitions. You must allow adequate time for children to move from active morning to slowing down to quiet time – naps or rests. If you’re not patient, they won’t be either.

3) Down time – naps – have to be structured and planned out ahead of time. Generally, they should occur at about the same time every day, including weekends. Just like us, children like to know what’s coming next, so make your schedule predictable.

Example: With my grandkids, who I see as often as funds will allow, I let them know in the morning that after lunch we will be having a time to rest. We transition from morning running around, playing catch, maybe a field trip to the park to feed the ducks etc. to lunch at home. I give them a simple but healthy snack or lunch like grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich, a few grapes, some juice, thinned with water, and maybe a cookie.

4) I never say the trigger word “NAP” because only bad things can happen. I always focus on us all taking some time to rest together, when I can read one or two of their favorite books. At first, of course, they resisted, knowing that the evil “nap time” was ahead no matter what I called it.

But by staying consistent with them, always loving but focused on a time to rest as a natural part of our day, they eventually began to accept it as the norm. Many parents don’t want to engage in the fight to “put” a child down for a nap and they are correct. It should not be a fight or power struggle and won’t be if you are calm, patient and keep to your schedule.

The first time I tried this, my 2-year-old grandson, putting up his defenses, said, “I’m not tired, Papa, I’m not tired.” By the third day, as he drifted off to sleep, he said, “One more kiss, Papa, one more kiss.”

5) What I like most about nap time is that it gives me a chance to really talk to my grandkids as it did with my sons before them. As I gently rub their backs, I say things like how great it was spending time with them and how they are the most wonderful thing in my life – which is true. I softly talk to them about what we’ll do when they wake up and what we might do together tomorrow.

6) After the age of 5 years old or so, your child may not require a formal nap time, but for sure there always needs to be a “quiet” time in their schedule. All electronics go off, and they are allowed and encouraged to read quietly, play with puzzles, draw or do some sort of artwork.

I’m really down on electronics for children and never give them as gifts to any child in my life, regardless of age. They’ll get enough of that from the rest of society.

I hope these few suggestions are helpful to you, and please contact me if you have specific questions. Don’t give up and stay “lovingly” consistent. As always, keep sending me photos of you and your children so that we share with the world what fatherhood looks like.

Morris Turner is the father of two sons, ages 39 and 35. Over the past 45 years he has worked with children and young people in a variety of settings, including as preschool teacher, career counselor, family mentor and sports coach. He is also an author and recognized researcher in the area of African American settlement in the United States, but his greatest pleasure today is learning to be a good grandpa. He can be reached at missnpages@comcast.net or by calling (707) 794-0729.