Picture your household at 5:30 pm. What’s happening? How does everybody feel? What is each person doing? Is there chaos or contentment? If your family includes children under six or so, I bet the answer to that last question depends mostly on one thing – what they were doing three hours earlier.
Naps? Why Bother? Why should a lazy parent make the effort, and I know it is an effort, to see that her child takes regular naps? The answer is simple: good parents want their children to be truly content* as much of the time as possible, and child who naps is much, much more likely to be a content child for more hours in the day. Yes, I know that children can adapt to a wide variety of circumstances, including not having daily naps, but children who nap are consistently happier and more content.
I always feel sad when I see young children misbehaving because they are exhausted. In a way, being tired is no excuse for bad behavior (Beware if you find yourself often excusing your child’s temper or defiance with a lame, “He’s tired.”), but it is a fact that parents can make things unnecessarily tougher on their kids by not providing the sleep routines they need. That fretful, clingy, whiney late-afternoon/early evening misery does not have to be part of your days.
And don’t tell me your child will not nap, because I won’t believe you. I won’t believe you because I used to work in a large daycare facility where a couple of hundred six week to six year-old children napped every single weekday, like clockwork and without fuss. And I won’t believe you because I was a nanny at various times to several children who napped every single day, like clockwork and without fuss. And I won’t believe you because I brought up three children of my own who napped every day, like clockwork and without fuss.
You can teach your child to nap. The time you put in to train good napping and sleeping habits will pay dividends immediately and for years to come for your child and for everyone else in the family!
*True contentment is opposite to the kind of false contentment many parents settle for by providing instantly gratifying things and experiences to keep their children from complaining. That false contentment is precisely what “spoils” children. True contentment always comes from doing the right thing, the best thing, in the circumstances.
Post-script: The next part of this article is the how-to, but I confess I am struggling to write it. Entire books are written about how to help children sleep. Most of them, while well-meaning, are not that helpful. Some of them are silly. I have my opinion, backed up by a good deal of experience, but I know some readers will disagree, perhaps strongly. So I am wondering how much to say and how firmly to express it. I want us to still be friends at the end, and most of all I want everyone who reads to approach it with as open a mind as possible. So, I’m going to stop and call this Part I and ask all of you to prepare your minds for Part II. Try to read it, when it comes, with fresh, seeking eyes. Can you do that? And I’ll try hard to write it true. Thanks in advance. If you have young children, between now and then it would be great if you spent some time observing them and their level of tiredness throughout the day. It might be enlightening.