Keeping nap time for a 4 year old is hard guys. They’re little enough to melt down when tired, but smart enough to try to convince you why they don’t need naps. It seems like as soon as we get in a good groove, something changes and I have to adapt.
I know that my family is like a unicorn, but we keep some semblance of nap time here till about age 6. My oldest slowly dropped his nap by that age, my 2nd is 6.5 and still takes 1-2 naps a week, and my 4.5 year old is still napping at least 50% of the time.
Keeping a nap routine can be such a frustrating thing! I want to share all the things we’ve done to keep our kids napping up to age 4 and beyond. Remember that you have to do what feels right for your kids and your sanity.
How much sleep does a 4 year old need?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids ages 3-5 need 10-13 hours of sleep (including naps), and kids ages 6-12 need 9-12 hours.
The length of that nap may just depend on your chid, their sleep needs, and how stubborn they are when it comes to nap time strikes!
All of my kids have tried to drop their naps as early as 3, and boy is that scary! I’ll talk about how we deal with that but I try really hard to establish a nap time routine that’s the same every day when they are little.
Nap time strikes can be a sign quiet time is around the corner
It’s normal for 2, 3, and 4 year olds to protest naps. You have to be the judge of what they NEED vs what they WANT.
You know your kids best here.
I feel like I’ve seen all the tricks from my 3. Kids coming out of their room, using the pee and thirsty excuse every 15 minutes, getting out of bed to play with toys, “accidentally” finding the Time To Wake clock unplugged, refusing to fall asleep but needing to…it’s exhausting. They are so clever.
But it’s worth trying to work through before dropping naps completely! A lot of times I’ve seen my kids start napping again after weeks of not napping.
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Ages of my kids that still take naps
I currently have a 6.5 year old that naps about 1-3 days of the week for 45 minutes, and a 4.5 year old that naps at least half the days for about 1-1.5 hours.
They nap together in the same room.
My oldest no longer naps. He’s 8 but completely stopped napping almost instantly after he turned 6. That’s when we had to figure out what quiet time looked like.
If nap time just doesn’t work for you, spend your energy teaching them your expectations for quiet time. I’ll show you how we do that too.
Being home for nap time
Nap time does make it hard to be out and about in the afternoon.
We homeschool preschool and older so obviously napping isn’t possible if you have kids in school or have to wake up kids to go to school pick up.
So if that’s you, I’m sorry!
Maybe there’s a way you can make it work, but I can’t speak to an on the go type schedule.
What the best time for napping a 4 year old?
For the last 2 years or so, we’ve done naps around 2 pm. That enables us to do bedtime around 7:30. So if you are on team 6:30 bedtime, you may need to start naps earlier, depending on how long they nap for.
Nothing sciency to it…that’s just normal, for us.
We used to do naps earlier when my kids were littler. Like around age 2-4 we really did need to nap around 1 pm or the whines and tears would just pour on. And naps lasted longer, maybe 1.5 to 2 hours even.
But now, my kids’ internal clocks just haven’t wound down enough or something because 2 seems to be our magic number.
So as my kids have grown older I notice 2 things:
- They nap later in the day.
- They nap for less time.
- Naps aren’t needed every day.
If we make it to 3:00 or 3:30 and haven’t napped…I just skip it and replace it with quiet time.
Although there are days when we nap at 3:00 or 3:30, but they are just up too late. If you want your kids in bed earlier rather than later, late napping is a bad idea!
How long should a 4 year old nap for?
Our 4 year old naps have lasted 1 to 1.5 hours.
I think this probably depends on your child, how tired they are, and how deep of a sleeper they are.
I’m finding that when we do naps about every other day (at age 4.5), he sleeps longer and deeper because he’s truly tired.
But when my oldest was 4.5, he napped almost every day. I think a big part of that was that I was never out of the house during naps when we had 3 kids under age 4.
Where as now with big kids, we may be at a splash pad till 2 because no one is having a meltdown. So a more on the go homeschool life just naturally transitioned us to quiet time sooner…at least half the days.
Adjust, adjust, adjust
Now this has taken years of practice and trial and error…and plenty of frustrating days on my end!
We’ve tried a time to wake clock, and no clock.
We’ve tried separating kids in different rooms and combining.
We’ve tried letting them play with toys and no toys.
We’ve tried allowing books and not allowing books.
I’ve napped with them in their room (hello 4th pregnancy exhaustion while homeschooling) and also not napped.
We also had a big problem with my then 3.5 year old unplugging the Time To Wake clock “on accident” every day (thinking if it wasn’t red nap time could be over.)
I kinda cracked down on that by telling him I’d have to reset the whole hour if it happened. A few days of that and he stopped unplugging it.
So, it’s not easy, and ever-changing. But my goal has been naps for all who need it, and quiet time for the rest.
Each kid has shown a different amount of push back, and I’ve even noticed one of my kids legitimately needs less sleep and always has. She takes shorter naps, first to wake up in the morning, etc.
What to do when your kid stops napping because they have to poop
And then there’s the “I have to pee” and “I have to poop” excuse. My toddler used to come out every day at naps and poop. On purpose I swear.
This ruined naps for a solid few months, and I was growing weary. We ended up making him go sit on the toilet every day before naps till he felt the need to poo poo. And thankfully, that worked.
How we set up their bedroom for nap time
I’m sure this is different for each family, but we make their room dark and noisy for naps. No matter what time of day nap time has the same feel and sound for them. It’s like this:
- Room is dark ish. These are our floor length blackout curtains. I love how they are lined, look like white linen on one side, and block out light! Ours touch the floor. It doesn’t make the room totally black but very, very dark.
- Each kid has their own fan. We made a rule it stays on the lowest setting because I got tired of arguments about how loud a fan was or how much wind it blew, etc.
- Heads on pillows, and no talking. I can’t make them nap…but these two things seem to do the trick. This is also the area that takes the most enforcement early on.
- They each have a big soft blanket and special pillow.
When it’s almost time, I say, “Get your blankets and pillow how you like it!” That’s their cue it’s almost time. I also remind them to go pee and get a drink.
Try a time to wake clock
We used a time to wake clock for a while when they kept coming out of their rooms. It really extended their nap because they didn’t have to ask if naps were over. It’s like their brains could shut off.
We had to find consequences for not obeying the clock at first. I found that adding time onto the clock (say 5 minutes) each time they came out, were goofing around, etc really helped. Because once they’d allow themselves to lay still they’d fall asleep!
We currently don’t use this because no one’s been staying awake saying, “Can I come out now?” We set it when my 2 youngest started fighting naps around age 2.5 and 4.5.
Then, after a few months they seemed to nap again regularly, sometimes even past the hour I’d set it for. So I stopped setting it.
It also makes the dog the authority, object to blame, and time keeper, not me…which is honestly super nice sometimes.
This clock is also awesome for quiet time because it’s so easy for them to see how many minutes are left or to wait for the green light.
What to do when two kids depend on each other to fall asleep in the same room
When my #2 child was 5, she was seemingly done napping. I was kind of panicking over it.
I was worried if one stopped napping, then the other would too since they had always napped together.
It would have been a normal time for most kids to stop napping, but I was nervous that my #3 child (then 3.5 years old) would stop napping if his big sister wasn’t there like he was used to.
Plus she was SO cranky if she missed her nap…even at age 5. And she’d get CRAZY. Like wow how do I hang in there for the next 4 hours.
If my #3 stops napping when he’s 5, I’ll be fine with that. He plays on his own very nicely for long periods of time, so it’s not as big of a deal to me.
But I didn’t want him to stop napping at age 3.5 just because his big sister was ready to drop her nap (at least I thought she was ready at the time). He’s VERY routine based, likes things to be just so, and I didn’t think he’d respond well to being the ONLY kid who naps when he was used to his sissy.
So I decided to try experiment with something that’s kept him napping and given her a little more freedom.
The 1 weird nap trick that has kept my 4 year old napping longer
I made a deal. When my daughter was 5, I allowed her to quietly come out of her room once my then 3.5 year old fell asleep. She had to finish her quiet time playing in another room by herself.
And it’s worked wonders for the last year! She has to go in and lay down like normal, and when he falls asleep she can come out and do quiet time. This usually takes 10-15 minutes.
She can play/color/go outside after she comes out…but not talk to me or ask me for a snack or anything during that hour.
I made it clear it was my quiet time too.
And we had a conversation that if she bragged to her little brother that I was letting her come out once he fell asleep, she’d have to play quietly in her room for the full hour using our Time To Wake clock.
That clock has come in handy during several different napping phases for us…I’d definitely get one if your kids are coming out too early in the morning or too soon from their naps.
I also had to make it clear that if she came out before he was fully asleep (aka him coming out with her), she’d have to go back in and lay down. Which has happened a few times when she was trying to come out way too soon.
Did it work?!
We have this code language. She asks, “Can I do you know what?” And I say, “Ya.” So she can come out any day she wants. It just really helps my son to have her there to fall asleep, and honestly helps her to wind down for a few minutes too.
I used to have to really monitor and enforce her not chatting in there with him, but now she doesn’t chat because she wants him to fall asleep faster. Win-win.
I can’t say if this would work for you or not. But it kept my little guy on his routine, allowing him to easily fall asleep as normal.
How I realized my 5 year old still needed a short nap
By just making my daughter lay still and quiet with her little brother, I discovered she falls asleep on accident about 50-75% of the time. Her naps are shorter than his, say 45 minutes. But wow does it help her brain to wind down and the rest of the evening is SO much smoother.
It’s so cute when she comes out because she says she only fell asleep for 1 minute. ( I love how kids perceive time.)
I didn’t realize she could still benefit from a nap at age 5!
Letting her come out BUT requiring her to begin laying down has been great for her strong willed personality. Once I figured out she needed clear expectations and also some control, we were able to change a few things that REALLY improved our relationship.
Signs your 4 and 5 year olds may still need a nap some days
With my #2, I was pretty sure she still needed some sleep mid day even though she would never choose it.
There are a few signs that are pretty big hints your kid might benefit from a short mid day nap still. I see this in my 4 year old when we have skipped a few days, or if I get side tracked and forget to nap them till it’s too late in the day.
- Whining goes WAY up.
- Fighting or arguing mid day getting worse
I think it’s just really hard to know what to try and sometimes letting go of the nap is less stressful than hanging onto it.
Signs your 4 or 5 year old is phasing out of naps and ready for quiet time instead
The closer our kids get to around age 6, the more I see they don’t need as much sleep mid day. That’s when we usually let them start staying up some days and introducing quiet time expectations.
The main clues I see starting around age 3 or 4 and continuing till they stop napping:
- Their ability to NOT melt down mid- day over small things if we skip a nap.
- Only falling asleep half the days they lay down (this is when we usually start alternating a mix of quiet time/nap time)
- Eventually staying awake in their room in the dark the whole time
When my son turned 6, he almost instantly seemed to just stay awake in the dark for his full nap time. Prior to that he’d be out like a light about every 3 days. So I knew he was just ready for daily quiet time instead!
Figuring out how to make quiet time…quiet
I tell my husband sorry some days I’m not very chatty with him, and it’s because I’m chatted at ALL day. I am pretty strict with naps and quiet time because it’s the ONLY time someones not talking to me till bed time. I need the quiet too.
If naps can’t be a thing, and we are going to be there soon with my #2 and #3 kids, quiet time can be. I plan to have quiet time for as long as we homeschool!
We do quiet time for 1 hour
Right now we do an hour, but that’s not a magical number or anything! I’ve met families who do an hour and a half.
You can do longer, or shorter.
It will take some practice for us to figure out quiet time. I still get a lot of little people asking me things, or coming out to show me things. Our 3 oldest kids also share a room so I can’t just separate each kid to their individual bedrooms.
Things we do when setting up quiet time
- Telling them it’s my quiet time too, which means I will be off duty for an hour.
- Not getting anyone snacks for that hour.
- Not finding lost things for anyone during that hour.
- Putting myself in a separate room during that time.
- Letting them pick activities that don’t require my help
- Setting a visual timer for them, so they don’t keep asking if quiet time is over yet.
- Having them not talk to each other too. I think it’s helpful for them, and I need a break from breaking up any arguments which are more likely to come up at this point in the day when they are tired.
Quiet time activities
Obviously screen time makes the easiest sure fire way to get some quiet. And I’m not against that AT ALL. But if we do a lot of screen time in the morning, I’ll usually try not to use it at quiet time. It just depends on the day.
We go through phases where we use WAY to much of it, and that’s usually when I try a cold turkey screen time freeze to reset our brains a bit.
Other things my kids play that keep them fairly quiet (not always):
- Audiobooks (Usually my surest bet to have a successful quiet time besides electronics)
- These sticker collage books
- Calico Critters
- Coloring or paper/scissors/tape roll
- PlayDoh (I use this big tub of it)
Don’t make arbitrary age cut offs for naps
My daughter started asking me when she could stop napping with her little brother when she was newly 5. I made a mistake telling her she’d probably stop around age 6 like her older brother.
I said that once in passing not thinking twice about it…and she treated it like an oath! Yikes, it wasn’t a promise.
So she’s 6.5 now and still asks about that. But she’s a different kid than my oldest. I could tell he was done because he stayed awake the whole hour for weeks, so I let him do quiet time.
But she actually still falls asleep…and hard! Which tells me she needs it. As do the whines when we skip naps too many days in a row.
So my best advice there is to not tell your kids (or yourself) a particular nap cut off age. Just observe what you think they need, which may be different for each kid.
How to get older kids to take naps on vacations
We can’t always, but we do try!
Sometimes it’s just not dark enough. Or there’s too much exciting noise going on in the house we are at. Or there’s a squeakier door. A million things. I just mentally prep myself that naps won’t happen on vacation and if they do it’s a bonus.
When we vacation as a family on our own (staying in our own hotel or something), naps have been possible if we all nap. Meaning mom, dad, kids, everyone.
Having a dark room and us right there the whole time to reinforce no talking really helps. Having white-noise really helps too. Sometimes we’ll just download a white-noise phone app if we are in a pinch.
It also helps if they are just pooped out from a full morning! But really, vacations are a crapshoot for napping and I don’t really have any sound advice!
More posts on motherhood
How do you do naps and quiet time?
I’m not an expert at naps or quiet time, simply just sharing what we do that works for us! I’m always up for suggestions and tips so let me know what’s working (or not) for you in the comments! This will also help other mamas too.
See you over on my new homeschool YouTube channel !