I'm sitting here, in my advancing years, laughing. I remember when my own two year olds were asserting themselves. Going to bed at night was no problem once they stopped napping. They were exhausted by 7 p.m..
The problem was, so was I. It was hard to find common ground.
Napping was debatable from age 18 months through age 21. Now the opposite is also the question, the problem being, "Can Mollie Stay Awake Long Enough to Answer This Question."
My first was Peter, who is now deployed somewhere in the Middle East. When he was 20 months old, the question of napping was front and center. I was pregnant with baby #2, Roger, and on bed rest. Pete had been premature, and once I started experiencing early dilation during my second pregnancy, taking it easy wasn't an option, it was a mandate. It's hard to get a wee one to take five when he's discovering the physics of life.
Once Roger was born, I was able to chase Peter again. I'd snuggle the baby down for a nap and then mention to Pete that napping was now an option, not a command. Invariably, Peter would opt for no nap, being 2 1/2, but I was on the mend and could keep up with him.
One day, in September of '84, I snuggled Roger down and offered Peter a nap. He declined in his own special assertive way, so I took him outdoors with me to the front yard to weed the flower beds (yes, weeding and laundry are constants in my life). He played with the sprinkler, peed in the flowers, and did all sorts of things that a 2 1/2 year old does when he has free reign of the yard. In no time, he was tired. But he wouldn't go down for a nap.
I was getting ready to mow the lawn and was heading to the shed to get my mower. When I looked up, Peter was gone. The back yard was fenced, his only escape was to get past me, and I was certain that hadn't happened.
I went into the house, and there, on the third step of the staircase, was Peter, sleeping up a storm. The poor little guy didn't have the pep to walk up the seven steps to the upper level of our split entry home! So I closed the front door, picked him up and set him on the bottom bunk of his bunk beds. He slept for 2 hours. But he didn't go to bed that evening until 10 p.m.
Kids hit an age where they can't just nap, but will run themselves (and you, of course) ragged. All I can suggest is that if the kid won't sleep, create a quiet space. When Roger was 2 1/2, and refusing naps, I'd build him a 'nest' in the basement with a bean bag chair, his blankie and a video of Dumbo. Then I'd find something to do that was quiet, and in no time, the little guy would be fast asleep. I'd do laundry, get Peter off the school bus (by then he was 5 and in kindergarten) or, miracle of miracle, read a book. It was heaven.
I don't know what the dynamics of your home is, but opting for and afternoon quiet hour might help. If you have more than two kidlets, they also can do quiet activities (art, reading, polishing mom's toenails?). Your little anti-napper may not get much sleep, but you all might get a little peace. But in the end, your wee one will get sleep.
Meanwhile, focus on the teen years when they sleep in to 11 a.m. You won't be able to get them out of bed without hand grenades and two toy poodles.
The whole subject reminds me of Bill Cosby's bit about arguing with HIS toddler: “They know how old you are, and they know how old they are, and they know they're gonna live longer than you.” There is not much point in arguing with a two-year-old.
That being said, nap time is the duct tape that holds a mother's day together; not only that, but even if a two-year-old seems to be able to run forever without a nap, he will need one again when he's three. A daily nap is a very worthy goal. For the sake of your sanity, here are a few things to consider.
Try letting the kid go feral for a couple of days and make note of the time he collapses on his own like Mollie's Peter. It may be that his nap time is scheduled for an hour before he's sleepy. You may also find that he won't nap at all, but he'll be ready to sleep through the night at 6 p.m.
There should be a predictable nap time routine, just as there is a predictable bed time routine. This signals to the child that it's time to shut down for an hour or two. The routine need not be as elaborate as the night-time one; an after-lunch story, trip to the potty (if you're working on that), tucking-in and kiss should suffice. You might also try having a special “lovey” that only makes an appearance at nap time.
Try putting a radio in the bedroom (out of the two-year-old's reach) and turning it to a classical-only station. Some people can't sleep if there is any sound at all, but some people sleep better with background noise. You can buy or make recordings of frogs, crickets or crackling campfires, too. White noise can work just as well; use a humidifier, a fan or air conditioner, or that same radio tuned to static.
Everyone sleeps better when the room is dark and cool. Draw the curtains, turn off the light and turn on the A/C or the fan. You might also try a little lavender spray on your child's pillow, if you're sure he isn't allergic; the smell is supposed to make people sleepy, and you can always say it's magic dream spray.
If all else fails, tell the child that it's MOMMY'S nap time so he will have to play quietly in his room for a while. Again, having some toys and books that are only available then can be helpful. You could try playing a children's CD (they're available at the library, too, for more variety) and telling the child he can come out when the music stops, or get a timer; for some reason kids NEVER argue with a timer. You'll have to avoid making noise or he'll know you're awake; but then, eating bon-bons and reading People magazine is a pretty quiet activity, right?
Alright, my friends. I admit it: I was the one pleading for help. I am currently trying to convince my two year old, Elaina, that sleeping is a GOOD thing. As of yet, she is still unconvinced.
Elaina is actually taking her nap as I write this. Napping, while still a bit of a battle, is not nearly as tear-filled as our night time skirmishes. The little stinker is our third child to go through this drama, and I'm still at a loss for what works.
Because not ONE thing works for every child.
My husband and I were waging war with her the other night. We both happen to employ spanking as a disciplinary method. Elaina is a smart little girl and knows that when it is bed time, she is to remain in her bed, close her eyes and go to sleep. If she gets up and comes out into the living room, she knows she will receive a swat. This particular night, she came out nearly every five minutes.
Now, no parent likes to see their child cry. Even though we spank, we don't LIKE to spank, you know? So about every fourth go around, I'd break down and take her back to her bed, cuddle and love on her. This practice would frustrate my husband, who said we must must MUST be consistent: it is worth all those spankings for the time mommy MIGHT go back there and love on her. He pointed out a study in which monkeys were observed as they chose between two buttons. One button would give them a bit of cocaine every fourth time they pushed it. The other was set to randomly deliver the cocaine. Soon, the monkeys grew bored of the consistent one and would only go for the other, even if that meant it would take longer to get the cocaine, more often than not. It was the thrill of "maybe THIS time...!" that kept them going for that second button.
I would be the cocaine in this instance.
We're in the middle of rebuilding this house; the children don't have a door in their room. Instead, they've got a door curtain... and at night, doubled up gates. This has been what we've decided to do, and it has begun to work. She'll Scream It Out (a toddler version of Crying It Out) for a bit, but then she gives up and lies down for the night. This is what worked for us before we moved, back when we had a door to keep our oldest daughter in. Our son never really had a problem going to bed, because he was just happy to be near his older sister. He is still our best sleeper, though at four years old has given up his naps.
Elaina will probably be giving hers up soon, too. I do mandate quiet times for the ones not sleeping, though, as to maintain my sanity. Right now, the oldest two quietly play Wii Mario Kart while Elaina naps. Once she's given up those naps I'm going to send all three of them to the back rooms to have a quiet time.
Because even if THEY don't need naps... I do! And I'll be taking advantage of my baby's afternoon nap while it is still a pleasure--not a battle!
Remember, consistency is key. If they know what to expect, they'll eventually grow bored of pushing your buttons (sorry, couldn't help myself) and start to comply.