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Solved! The Mysteries of Toddler Naps

Don't Help Too Much

Parents can unwittingly create additional sleep problems by doing too much to persuade their child to nap. Eva Solomon learned this the hard way. "When my daughter turned 3 she started napping only two or three times a week, but I didn't want her to stop," says the Allentown, PA, mother of Marissa, now 4, and Gabe, 2. "I'd waste hours driving her around in the car just trying to get her to nap. By the time she gave in or I gave up, the whole afternoon would be gone. It just wasn't worth it."

Some parents find themselves performing elaborate prenap rituals that can take almost as long as the nap itself. "It's easy to get caught in this sort of trap," says Cuthbertson. "You start by talking to your daughter's favorite teddy bear about how much she's going to enjoy her nap. That works so well that she asks you to talk to one more and you figure, why not? But by the end of the week, you find yourself having a tete-a-tete with every stuffed animal in the room."

One mom admits she just gives up and gets into bed with her 2-year-old. "It's the only way he'll lie down long enough to fall asleep," she says. "But it sure is uncomfortable. He wraps his little arms around my neck in a sort of headlock, and I don't move a muscle for an hour for fear of waking him up."

This sort of routine is a bad idea for many reasons  -- chronic neck strain is only one of them. "Even though your child may want you in bed with him, he's not likely to sleep as well with you there," says Dr. Givan. "You'll both end up cranky instead of well-rested."

More important, such measures can make future naps even more difficult. "By letting yourself become overinvolved in your toddler's nap, you may actually be training him to be unable to fall asleep on his own, both during the day and at night," says Cuthbertson. "But if you do it right, nap time can be a great opportunity to practice your child's getting-to-sleep skills, so bedtime can go more smoothly as well."