One of the trickiest things for parents is knowing when it’s time for a nap transition and how to go about it. While there’s different ranges for each age, please understand that every child is different and what might work for one child, might not work for the other.
First thing’s first! How many naps does a baby need?
4-6 months old: 3-4 naps
7-13 months old: 2 naps
13-18 months old: 1 nap
3 years old to even 5 years old: drop nap
It’s important to note that rushing to drop a nap just because there’s what’s considered “average,” may actually make things worse for your little one and you. We want to do it when it’s the right time for them. Also, if they’re a little older than what a chart says, but it’s working for you and them, then keep it as is. My daughter was on that cat nap until she was about 9 months old and it worked perfectly for us. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!
Before you call it and think it’s time to drop a nap, consider these signs AND wait at least a month before you make any changes.
Baby or toddler refuses to take a nap
Timing of their nap begins to change
Length of their nap begins to change
Bedtime becomes a fight
Child's behavior is fine when a nap is missed
Timing-you may notice that while naps used to be predictable, your baby is taking longer to fall asleep and their regularly scheduled nap is now pushed to a different time.
Length-naps become shorter possibly because they’re taking longer to fall asleep.
Bedtime battles-your little one is now struggling to fall asleep.
Behavior-for toddlers, you’ll see that if they miss a nap or completely refuse their nap, that their behavior seems just fine the rest of the day. You may start to see them become a little more fussy as their regular bedtime approaches.
Now that that’s covered, when are you looking at dropping a nap?
Going from 3 to 2 naps occurs around 6-10 months old
Going from 2 to 1 nap occurs around 14-18 months old
Going from 1 nap to no nap occurs between 3 years old to sometimes even 5 years old
So the question becomes “how do we work on the transition?”
You’ll want to come up with a new nap time when you’re working on a transition. You’ll simply push back their regular nap by 15-30 minutes until you’ve reached the new desired time. For example, if going from 3 naps down to 2, you may want to drop that last nap, keep the other naps the same, and put baby down 30 minutes earlier.
Another example is baby naps from 9:30-10:30 but we want a new nap starting at 11:00 am. Start putting them down at 9:45 one day, then 10:00 the next day, and keep pushing by 15 minutes (or 30 minutes if they can handle it without becoming overtired), until you’ve now laid them down at 11:00 am.
Now, if your toddler is ready to drop their one nap, you have two options.
Cut back their nap by 15-30 minutes to see how they adjust and how it effects bedtime and morning wakings. You may keep their nap for that new set length of time until it’s an issue.
Drop their nap cold turkey (it’s what I did with our oldest once the shorter nap time wasn’t working).
Now, I know how much we LOVE our quiet time when naps are a part of our daily life! Believe me! The good news is, you can STILL have your down time!! I always tell my families with toddlers to incorporate quite time during what was their nap time. Have them go to their room (keep everything safe for them), and have a box or bin of quiet activities for them to do and let them know it’s quiet time. If they come out you can simply remind them “not yet. You still have an hour left of your quiet time.” Keep their quiet time activities in their room or somewhere they can’t get to because we don’t want them to have easy access and then play with them throughout the day.
I hope this helps you get a better understanding of naps and how/when to transition. If you need anymore help, please feel free to reach out!