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Infant Won't Take Naps
Q: My eight-month-old has recently been reluctant to take naps during the day. I wait until he's noticeably tired before putting him down. I also have a routine that we do each day and when I get close to his room, he freaks out and nothing can settle him down. He reaches towards the door and screams. He is put down at night awake and sleeps through the night perfectly (from 7:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.). The only thing that calms him down and gets him to nap in the morning is to nurse him. I'm so frustrated and feel I have already made so many accidental parenting mistakes. What can I do?
A: Let me start by saying that you are not making "many accidental parenting mistakes." Paying attention to his cues (for example, waiting until he seems tired) and keeping to certain routines with naps can be helpful. Moreover, your 8-month-old son is not the only infant who resists naps. Many children between 8 and 12 months of age begin avoiding naps or resisting bedtime because of a normal developmental stage called "separation anxiety." All infants reach this developmental stage, where they begin to cry or have tantrums when they are visibly separated from their caregivers, even for short periods.
The intensity of these episodes varies and for your son, it may occur when he is about to be put down to sleep because this is a time of separation from you. You certainly seem ahead of the game since you have already found successful ways of encouraging him to relax and to get ready to go down for a nap. I would continue these techniques or any others that seem to relax him.
When putting your son down for a nap, give him an extra hug and kiss and say "It's nap time, I'll see you soon" and exit the room quickly. Keep the door of his room open so that he can hear you in the next room. If he cries and calls after he is put in the crib, you may enter the room and say something like, "I'm here, but it's time to sleep now" and then leave the room quickly again. Try to avoid the temptation of picking him up -- this will only reinforce the behavior you want to change. You may have to do this more than once until he falls asleep.
Overall, all children go through a time when bedtime becomes a battle. Continue your calming bedtime routines and reassure him that you are nearby, but that it is time to sleep.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.