It’s pick on three-year-olds week here at Catholic All Year, which is odd since I don’t even have a three-year-old right now. But I have had five three-year-olds previously, so I can say with some level of expertise, that those guys are generally up to something.

supposed to be napping . . . busted!

Anyway, a friend asked me recently if I have any advice for dealing with a three-year-old who doesn’t want to nap any more. And, guess what? I do. Plus some war stories.

But first, I have to explain that, for me, nap time is the most wonderful time of the whole day. I not only like nap time, I NEED nap time in order to function the rest of the day. I’m an introvert. I’m an introvert who hosts a lot of homeschool events and goes on a lot of field trips and spends every waking moment surrounded by at least seven people. I love them, but I need some alone time each day to recharge. I need nap time.

that’s more like it
I also think my kids really need a nap, up until five or six, pretty much every day. Without a nap, they really aren’t able to fulfill their number one responsibility of “existing without shrieking” in the evenings.

Maybe you hate nap time because it means you’re stuck in the house when you’d rather be out and about. Or maybe you have a great love of doll tea parties and finger painting and macaroni necklaces and you don’t like nap time because it interferes with that stuff. Or maybe you’ve figured out how to get your kid to nap in the car or just go to bed earlier. Great, good on ya. 


But, if your three-year-old thinks she doesn’t need to nap, but YOU think she does . . . in my experience there are ways to bring back the nap. It has been pretty common around here for three-year-olds to go on a nap strike, but once it’s re-established my kids keep napping until they are in kindergarten, which is when I start letting them stay up. Because that’s about when they can be trusted to keep out of trouble.

Even when I only had two kids (maybe especially then) I really cherished the hour or two I had each day during nap time to sleep or read or fold laundry and watch TV uninterrupted by ten thousand questions. But then, when I was six months pregnant with my third, and my second was a year and a half, my oldest turned three. He was always a pretty reluctant sleeper, but we had gotten to the point where he was consistently taking a good afternoon nap. Until, all of a sudden, at three, he just stopped napping.

He stopped napping and started doing other things instead. Things like eating a book. Seriously, he ate a significant percentage of a board book copy of Goodnight Moon. He also threw all of his clothes out of the little crack in the second story window of his room. But it serves me right I guess, because apparently when *I* was three, I covered myself in a tube of Desitin while I was supposed to be napping. And my parents had to replace the carpet because the whole house smelled like cod liver oil.

Like this. But this isn’t me. You can
read more about HER Desitin adventure here.

But back to Jack . . . all of a sudden he was almost never falling asleep at nap time. He would get up out of bed over and over again. That meant I couldn’t nap, because he just wasn’t the kind of kid I could leave unsupervised at three. And I was pregnant. And tired. We lived in a very small, very creaky house. So, if he was up, he almost always woke up his sister. And really, he needed the nap. He couldn’t make it until dinner without falling apart because he was so tired.

The key to all of it really was just being more stubborn than he was, and refusing to give up on nap time. I wanted two hours, but I was willing to settle for one hour I could count on.

So I got an hourglass. A REAL hourglass.
A big one. That lasts an hour. There are kids’ clocks that glow green
or light up an awake bunny instead of a sleeping bunny, but the reviews on them are mixed. Some people love them, some people find them difficult to figure out. But ya know what everyone can figure out? An hourglass, that’s what.

I just put it up on a shelf where he could see it from his bed, but couldn’t reach. Then came the behavior modification part. If he got out of bed, or made noise, or kicked the wall, or did anything except lie in his bed with his eyes closed for that one hour, he got NOTHING he liked the rest of the day. No TV, no snacks, no desserts, no going to the park, no stories, no art projects. Nada.

He also got lots of calmly delivered reminders like, “It would be fun to watch Thomas, but, remember, you got out of bed at nap time, so we can’t do that today.” And, “Yes we do have cookies, but, unfortunately, since you were kicking the wall instead of lying quietly at nap time, we can’t have dessert tonight.” 

It worked. And in a matter of days not weeks. If he could have read a regular clock reliably, I wouldn’t have even needed the hourglass. Sometimes he would just lie quietly for that hour, and then get up the second that last grain of sand fell. Still, at least I had gotten an hour, and I really felt like his behavior was better even if he just had a rest. But most of the time, he couldn’t lie still for a whole hour without falling asleep. So, the nap came back.

three-year-old Jack and baby Bobby
in our apartment in Glendale

For us, the keys were having clear and reasonable expectations (in bed, quiet, until the hourglass was empty) paired with unpleasant but enforceable consequences (I say “no” to everything you ask). And being really consistent until the behavior was established.

And we all lived happily ever after. All my three-year-olds since have gone through some level of the nap strike, but it’s been much less difficult to deal with since we have a much more established general discipline policy than we did when Jack was little. So they mostly don’t give me as hard a time as Jack did. I’ve still got the hourglass up in the closet though, just in case I need to bust it out again for Frankie.

Note: I do not know why I have all these pictures of Jack sleeping. There were more, I didn’t even use all of them. But, aside from tiny baby pictures, I don’t have any pictures of the other kids sleeping. Was it just so rare that I felt the need to document it? Is it just because he was my first so I just took too many pictures of everything? I really don’t know.