Did you know that today is "National Napping Day?" No joke! This unofficial holiday was created in 1999 to help people adjust to Daylight Saving Time.
While we here in Arizona THANKFULLY do NOT observe Daylight Savings (and don't even get me started on the stupidity of the concept behind it), I DO think naps are key to having happy, pleasant children.
As I am typing this, our youngest three (ages 7 months, 2, and 4 years respectively) are all napping, and should be for about another hour or so.
This is no coincidence, and has nothing to do with luck. Please allow me to explain, so you, too, can tap into this sanity saver if you have not yet discovered it.
At our house, the rule is that anyone 5 and under (Kindergarten level and below) naps - period. Nap time is immediately after lunch, so starting around 1 pm. Even with multiple nappers of various ages, a consistent time can be implemented because even babies typically fall into a predictable pattern within months of birth. That youngest one may be too little to "sleep train," but he or she can set the tone for the rest of the sleeping crowd as to when exactly they are hitting the sack.
Consistency is key. Skipping naps on occasion because you are away from home for whatever reason is not the end of the world, especially if the younger ones snooze in the car. But skipping nap time when you are just at home, with nothing out of the ordinary going on, will give children this idea that naps are optional. That, in turn, will lead them to fight and argue about nap time every single time, rather than realizing that nap time is never up for debate, so they might as well resign themselves to their fate.
For one, every 3-year old needs a nap. If they don't seem to need one, it is simply that they are so deficient in sleep, it is now manifesting as hyperactivity. Having a solid routine and non-negiotiable sleep times can help undo those bad patterns.
Secondly, while you cannot force anyone to fall asleep, you CAN force them to lie in bed silently without getting up. That's all you can do. But lo and behold, more often than not, you will find the child asleep in just a matter of minutes if you enforce the simple rule of "Lie still with your eyes closed and don't get up."
This leads to my first piece of advice:
#1 Have specific rules regarding nap time, and stick to them consistently.
Of course once the little cherubs are sleeping, you want to keep a good thing going as long as possible. For us, the rule is never to wake a napping child unless absolutely necessary. Hence, I schedule my day around those golden nap time hours by not allowing visitors between 1-4 pm, and never scheduling appointments during that time. One exception to this rule is that sometimes, my husband is able to do office work from home, in which case I love running errands by myself, while the little ones are sleeping and not even aware of the fact that I am not at home with them.
Besides noisy outside distractions, there may be older siblings that need to be quiet during this time. This is where "silent time" comes in. Older kids can silently be working on school work, or enjoy entertainment such as reading. Two aspects that I find very helpful are (1) having children separated visually if they must be in the same room, and (2) encouraging them to stay put, rather than moseying up and down the house. Learning to be still and quiet are great qualities.
If you have appliances like the washer and dishwasher to run, now is a great time. Background "white noise" will quickly come to be associated with sleep. At our house, we would always need to run the dishwasher after lunch, and after dinner, simply because we would go through that many dishes. One day I came to realize that anytime the dishwasher turned on outside those times, the baby would become very sleepy even when she was just sitting in her high chair in the kitchen. Use this as a tool in your box of arsenals!
So my second piece of advice is:
#2 Treat nap time as a priority. Help make it a success by reducing noise and other distractions, and/or getting white noise on your side.
Now that the little ones are down, and the older ones are productively occupied, what to do? Well, for one, you can now think for 30 seconds without being interrupted or distracted! So this may be a good time to briefly pray as you get those major appliances rebooted, respond to some urgent emails, help the older kids with school work as necessary, sit down to practice reading with a child who is new to it, or get work done online (ordering goods, looking up a dinner recipe, researching something new, etc.). You could get started on dinner so that you do not have to deal with that once the little ones wake up again.
Whatever you do, try to stay productive yourself, because as soon as you go into a vegetative stage of "I'm just going to relax for a bit while browsing Facebook", you will soon loose all motivation to do anything, only to find yourself scrambling to make up for lost time when your little ones wake up, ready to go, while you are more tired than ever.
Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger. - Proverbs 19:15
Do you realize what that verse is saying? The lazier someone is, the more tired they get! It's true. The best way to be invigorated and energized to push through that "afternoon low" is to get up and do something.
By having a motto of "work comes first, then the fun" you could then have time to do a craft with the children after nap time, read a story, go for a walk, or something fun of the sort. Of course, once your work is reasonably caught up, if the little ones are still sleeping, there's nothing to stop you from putting your feet up and blowing off some steam yourself.
#3 Make the best use of nap time by getting things done while younger, high-needs children are off your hands. Don't fritter away this precious time.
Finally, here is my HUGE disclaimer: If you yourself need to nap, by all means do!!! Napping is not being lazy or unproductive. Unlike playing a video game, napping will pay its dividends by restoring your energy and re-fueling your own tank.
So whenever possible, take a nap yourself. If all your kids are young and still napping, a nap should be a daily MUST for you - even if it's just for 20 minutes. Sleeping for 20 minutes and then working for 40, you will be able to get more done than if you slowly drag yourself through the whole hour on an empty tank without a nap. And let's face it - when all your kids are young (5 and under), your tank is always running on low!! This is a question of discipline on your part: Can you force yourself to take that nap you so badly need? If not, chances are, your children likewise will have ill-disciplined attitudes toward work and sleep.
My final piece of advice:
#4 Whenever humanly possible, take a nap of at least 20 minutes yourself. If all your kids are napping, make a rule to also nap.
There you have it. It's not rocket science. Nap time truly is a key piece of the puzzle to achieving peace and sanity in a family with little ones around.
I hope this post has helped or encouraged you in some way.