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How do I get my 3 year old to nap?

My child is a 3 1/2 year-old boy. I can not get him to take a nap in the afternoon. We do have quiet time, but he does not go to sleep. He then falls asleep in the car after his mother picks him up, so he sleeps through dinner until morning.

Any suggestions would be helpful. Should the parents try to wake him and take their chances of getting him to sleep the rest of the night or just let him go without dinner?

Greg Severson | Pediatrician

Greg Severson

Children this age require a total of 9-12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period of time – he may be getting this at night.  It is not unusual for children at this age to stop napping.

This doesn’t mean the child might not benefit (more pleasant disposition later in the day) from a nap. The fact is you cannot make a child take a nap. You can only place a child in a relaxed environment, and hope the environment encourages sleep. 

I assume from your question, that the child is being picked up from a daycare provider when he falls asleep in the car. I would evaluate the daycare to see what type of environment he is placed in when attempting to get him to nap.

Moving a child’s wakeup time earlier in the morning may fatigue the child in the afternoon and lead to napping. I usually suggest starting out, by waking the child 15 minutes earlier than usual. In one week adjust the wakeup call time by another 15 minutes. You can continue in this way to adjust his wakeup time, nap time and bedtime. 

Children this age often skip meals, or eat poorly at some of the meals.  I would suggest the parent discuss this child’s total daily nutritional intake with his primary care physician to see if it is adequate – he may not need to eat dinner. He may be making up for the missed calories with breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

I would talk to the daycare provider and see if a nutritious snack could be offered late in the afternoon before he is picked up as a substitute for dinner, in the event he sleeps through the meal. If the child is growing adequately, than even thought his nutrition seems insufficient, he is likely doing fine.

Read more answers by Dr. Severson