Solved! The Mysteries of Toddler Naps
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"Many parents think their children are too fragile to fall asleep on their own -- but that's just not true," says Cuthbertson. "Your kid wants to stay awake and he wants to stay with you, so of course he's going to cry. And if he finds that it gets results, he's going to cry some more. You have to be strong. Just like at bedtime, toddlers need to learn to soothe themselves into sleep -- for everyone's sake."
How exactly does one accomplish this? "Start by encouraging your child to become attached to a security object that can stand in for you," says Cuthbertson. A teddy bear is the traditional choice, but it's certainly not the only one. For Eva Solomon's 2-year-old son, Gabe, a package of cheese and crackers does the trick. "Gabe loves the snack so much he wants a package to sleep with both at nap time and at night," says Solomon. "I guess it's a little weird, but it works."
Another effective toddler sleep aid: a regular prenap routine. Eliza Green puts Gretchen down for naps with a scaled-down version of their bedtime ritual. "Transitions were hard for her," says Green. "But she knew that she was going to have a story and get her bottle, and that helped ease her into it."
Whatever your routine, remember to keep it simple. "It may seem like a nice idea to sing your child her five favorite songs," says Cuthbertson. "But don't start unless you want to do it every day."
But what if you're already singing her five favorite songs, twice? "Don't stop cold turkey," advises Berberian. "Start by singing one fewer song each time. It will be easier for your toddler to tolerate if you gradually pare the routine down over a week or two."
If your child objects to this downsizing, don't give up. "If a child is verbal enough to complain, he's verbal enough to understand an explanation for why things have to change," says Berberian.
Whether this approach works depends more on your attitude than on exactly what you say. "If you're self-confident and project to your child that this new policy is going to work, he'll be more likely to accept it," says Berberian.