It's ironic how kids never want to nap, and most of the parents I know would pay big money to be able to take a nap in the middle of the day. Everyday!
Here is the method I used for getting my older toddler to continue taking daily naps because mama wasn't ready to give them up yet. My method is for children who will sleep "on the move" either in a car or in a stroller.
SIDE NOTE: My Big Girl is what my husband and I consider to be a Spirited Child and this is what worked for us to get her to wind-down. I say this not to label my child or make excuses for her or for me, but to offer hope in case you have a Spirited Child as well and are wondering if they will ever sleep in your lifetime. Gotta find what soothes them and run with it!
I was able to keep my older child napping daily for at least an hour+ til the middle/end of 3 years old. She is going to be 5 years old very soon (GASP!!) and she will still fall asleep on occasion if we find ourselves in the car during "nap time," especially if she is going through a growth spurt like lately. Like most toddlers, she was extremely high energy and didn't sit still for too long and enjoyed bouncing from one thing to another. I had a new baby at the time too so mama was desperate to keep baby #1 aka Big Girl napping for as long as humanly possible. However, she wasn't goin' down without a fight. Here is my method for doing all I could to prolong the napping process.
The Sleepy Drive.
At nap time pretty much everyday during the week when I was partakin' in some solo parenting, I packed Big Girl and Baby Brother into the car for our daily "sleepy drive" and we all enjoyed the daily wind-down. I put on some very soothing music, gave them each their lovie and a blanket (if it was chilly) and we drove around til they fell asleep. It usually took no more than 15 minutes, but honestly, there were many, many days where I wouldn't even get down the block and at least one of them were already asleep. We have some great "sleepy drive music." It's like Pavlov's Dog.
You did a sleepy drive every single day?
Yep. I was OK with doing this every day at that time because, like everything else with children (good and bad), I knew it wouldn't last forever...and it worked! Having an overtired toddler who is fussing and crying and fighting a nap for 45+ minutes every single day and then only sleeps for 30 minutes doesn't work when you have a nursing baby who also needs to wind-down and nurse and catch his 15th cat nap of the day - always at the same time of course.
The Early Years:
There was a time where both of them would wake up if I dared move their slumbering body out of the car seat to their bed so during that point in time I prepped everything to kick it in the car for the duration of the nap. I got some things for me to read or write and eat/drink (or I'd get drive-thru coffee!!) and then find a nice, quiet, shady spot by the park (away from any and all leaf blowers!) and we'd chill-out for a good hour to 2 hours or however long they needed to nap that day. Being a SAHM I was able to have this luxury of time during the day, and I'm so thankful for it.
"Is It Time For A Sleepy Drive Yet, Mommy?"
This was a very welcomed break for all three of us during our hectic, ever changing day. The kids were comfortable in their seats, and I was able to chill-out and have a bit of much needed "mama time" where I didn't feel like I had to fold laundry or do dishes (because how could I?? We weren't home. heehee.) I'd spend that time either staring blankly out the window thinking about nothing in particular except for how to get more sleep, I'd make a bunch of To-Do lists and shopping lists, I'd do my bills, I'd run through the drive up ATM (A mother must have designed those), I'd write blogs or I'd read parenting books/magazines. One time I dosed off still wearing my sunglasses, holding my coffee cup in one hand and a parenting book in the other hand. The parenting book was no doubt a "How-To-Get-More-Sleep" book. Baby Brother was just a few weeks old...life was a wee fuzzy back then. These daily car "kick it" naps became a really nice way to break up the day and a good excuse for mama to relax and meditate.
A 2-in-1 Nap:
Sometimes, depending on what we had going on that afternoon, I'd wake them up or they would wake on their own and we'd get out and play at the park for a bit since we were already there. I made sure to bring along a blanket and some snacks to munch on picnic style, as well as have sand digging toys at the ready. It helped that Baby Brother was still breastfeeding only at that time, so I only had to bring snacks for one kiddo. So I'd sit on the park bench and nurse Baby Brother and chat with other moms while Big Girl got to play with a bunch of new kids since she was always stuck with boring 'ol mama and baby.
That's great an all, but my kids won't sleep in the car.
When Big Girl was toying with the idea of wanting to give up naps around 2-ish when I was pregnant and exhausted with Baby Brother, ("Uhhh, No!") I would pack her in her stroller at nap time and we'd go for a long walk to the park and she'd usually fall asleep. She protested being in any sort of carrier at a very early age. She wanted to be down to boogie around. Thank goodness she was baby #1 because baby #2 lived in a wrap attached to my body. That is the only way I ever got anything done during daylight hours. As a toddler, if she didn't fall asleep in the stroller on our "sleepy walk," then I figured we still got out of the house and had a nice walk together in the sunshine. My pregnant cankles thanked me. If she did nap (bonus for mama!), I'd stop and sit in the shade and read and have a snack and watch butterflies and hummingbirds. Sometimes I'd walk up to the store to walk the isles in peace or grab some lunch or coffee while she napped in the stroller covered with a light blanket for shade and quiet. One of my favorite things to do back then when she fell asleep on our walk was go to the grocery store and get a coffee and maybe something to munch on and sit at their little cafe and read all of the trashy celebrity magazines (for free of course) and get my fill on mindless brain chatter like who was dating whom and who was pregnant, who broke up, who got married...you know, all of the really important things in life. That's all my preggo mom brain could muster back then.
The Win-Win Scenairo - Getting 2 To Nap:
After Baby Brother was born I'd squeeze him in the Moby Wrap and pack Big Girl in the stroller and we'd all walk. Baby Brother viewed his car seat like a torture chamber and screamed his tiny head off for the duration of our trip regardless of how long it was. So you can imagine my shock and horror super panic when I realized very early on that our tried and true method of the nap time sleepy drives for Big Girl #1 was no longer going to work since Baby Brother was being attacked by aliens back there. Regroup and adapt. He'd sleep in the wrap (and I could nurse him while walking and pushing a stroller if I had to in order to get him back to sleep while we were out - that was my mama superpower), and I already knew that she'd sleep in the stroller. Check.
It sounds silly, but you kinda feel like a rockstar when you get both kids napping at once. You wish the paparazzi would follow you around and snap up some pics.
Headlines: "Rockstar Super Mom of Teething Baby and Wild Child Toddler gets them BOTH napping at the SAME TIME! What is her secret?!"OK sure, I'll sign autographs.
Find what works for your children and run with it. If it works for them, then by golly it will work for you! Especially when it comes to sleep-precious-sleep!
I am always changing and adapting to their specific needs be it a walk, a snuggle in the carrier, a rock in the rocker or a car ride because frankly, I needed to have some peace and quiet during the day where they BOTH were asleep (a rare thing with more than 1 child) so I could recharge my mama batteries - so I just tried different things all the time until I found what worked for everyone to get them to sleep each day, peacefully. Some days it was really hit or miss. On the days where it was a "miss," I cried.
Sometimes a "new thing" would only last a week or so and there were PLENTY of times where only one would fall asleep and the other one was W-I-D-E awake, so it's never going to be a home run. That was tough if we were parked somewhere and the awake child was fussy because they wanted to get out and it would eventually wake the other one up...which made mama fussy. So then we'd just play and play and run wild at the park and *hope* that everyone went down early for bed that night.
The More Things Change The More They Stayed The Same.
As everyone got older and daily naps were still in order - at least for my lil guy, we'd continue with our sleepy drives and Baby Brother would fall asleep and Big Girl would wind-down. She loves to go for drives and enjoys all types of music, likes cuddling with her favorite stuffed guys and finds it a very calming experience overall. Thank goodness. After about 3 months of solid screaming whenever we got near the car let alone got in the car and got buckled, Baby Brother finally made peace with his car seat. Fast forward to 2 years later, he now finds it a calming experience as well, so we can now do sleepy drives for him if we need to. That was a long road. However, he doesn't fight naps everyday like it's his job like his big sister did when she was his age. There are days where I can see that he's getting tired and I'll scoop him up and we'll go into his dark room and snuggle with a blankie for a few minutes in his rocking chair (there are usually a few tears and a minimal bit of fussing and protesting - he is 2 after all) and he'll fall right asleep for a good 2-3 hours.
I know. I'd hate me too if I read this when Big Girl was the same age - being a Spirited Child and all. I also would never have believed it because the only time she ever did anything like that was when she was sick.
Stick With What Works.
If Baby Bother is extra wild that day and can't be calmed for a nap using our rocking chair techniques I pull the plug on it quickly so I don't miss "my window" and we'll all head to the car. They know the drill. "Get your lovies, grab your water, put on your sunglasses and let's move out!" Mama needs a holy-crap-I-can't-keep-my-eyes-open-any-longer-cuz-it's-the-middle-of-the-day frappuccino! Good thing with them being a bit older now too is that we can head right home after they fall asleep and they will actually stay asleep as I get them out of their car seat and put them into their beds. My Big Girl will usually wake up now if she has fallen asleep, but that's ok. She doesn't really need a nap anymore like she did between 0-3 1/2 years and she'll actually sit and have some "quiet time" when Baby Brother is napping - something she would never ever EVER do before. Hence mama's need for her to nap til she was 3+ years old!! Now that she is getting older she actually will go to bed a bit earlier if she's been running around playing like a wild child during the day as opposed to it revving her up like it did when she was a toddler.
You're probably wondering if we need to do sleepy drives for bedtime.
We've gotten into a pretty locked in night time routine which consists of a warm bubble bath, naked babies running around refusing to put on jammies, lots and lots of books and lots and lots of cuddling. We're at the point now with our Big Girl where we say, "this is the last book" and we close it, give hugs and kisses and daddy will sing a song he's made up freestyle based on whatever she wants him to sing about ("Horsey Horsey" is a long standing favorite) and we say "night night" and close her door. It has become a rare occasion that she comes out after we say goodnight since she is usually asleep within minutes later.
It was a looooooong road. #SpiritedChild.
Baby Brother still gets rocked to sleep in mama's arms every night like baby #1 at that age because he's my sweet lil cuddle bug and I throughly enjoy our quiet time together at bedtime. And again, he's only 2. Then daddy comes in to put him into his big boy toddler bed. He's pretty heavy. Sometimes he wants to sleep with us if he's been fussy so we put him in our bed, and sometimes when I turn his light out after we read books (and before we cuddle and rock in the rocking chair) he hops outta my arms and crawls into his bed on his own bed and says, "I go night night."
Me: "But...but, don't you want mama to rock you and snuggle you and sing to you til you fall asleep?" Sniff*Sniff*
Baby Brother: "I sleepy. Bay go night night."
Me: "Night Night My Sweet Love" (Kisses Big Boy, wipes single tear that has escaped my eye and closes his door.)
Night Time Sleepy Drives.
We certainly are no stranger to night time sleepy drives that is for sure. If we've had a particularly hectic day and it's hard to calm the savage beasts or if company has just left after a fun evening and our kids are wild beyond measure or if it was a special dinner and dessert was served we just cut to the chase and take a sleepy drive. I enjoy the quiet time with my husband listening to our sleepy music and having a very quiet conversation while the kids calm down. It was especially enjoyable during Christmas time and we got to see everyone's lights. And I'll admit, when Big Girl was a baby/toddler, we put more miles on our car at night then we ever did during the day. #SpiritedChild. But that was ok. It didn't last forever and it gave my husband and I some really nice, quiet bonding time with each other each evening while we drove around the neighborhood waiting for our little fighter to finally cave in and close her sweet lil lids.
Ever changing, always adapting. Life as a mom.