Although the child rearing books seem to say that 2-year-olds must have naps, recently my daughter absolutely cannot go to sleep in the daytime. When I try to put her down, she screams and fights. If I give in and let her stay up, she’s just fine. She usually falls asleep at 7 p.m. and sleeps until 7 or 8 a.m. Should I force the nap issue?
Your question raises two important issues about caring for young children: making sure that they get the sleep they need and dealing with their willful behavior and the power struggles in which we parents sometimes get caught. As for the first issue, children vary considerably in terms of their sleeping patterns and the age at which they outgrow their need for naps. (In fact, in my own family my son needed a good long nap until the age of 5, but my daughter stopped napping before the age of 2. Both did just fine with the sleep patterns that worked for them.)
It sounds like your daughter gets a good deal of sleep at night–probably enough to carry her through the day. You say that “she’s just fine” without a nap. I assume that means that she does not seem tired or unusually irritable. If that’s the case, she probably is showing you that a nap really isn’t necessary, despite the fact that most 2-year-olds do still need naps, and regardless of what the child-rearing books say.
On the other hand, life with a 2-year-old can be exhausting and you may need a break. Maybe you and your daughter can have a quiet time together in the afternoon, rocking and singing lullabies or snuggling up with a good book or some soft music. If she is needing a rest, this quiet time may be enough to settle her down for a sleep (and you too, for that matter). If not, then so be it.
As for the power struggle around putting her down for a nap, she is using the only behaviors she knows to tell you that she objects to napping. While this is understandable, giving in to her screaming only teaches her that screaming works. And in the long run that can spell trouble. With 2-year-olds, it’s wise to pick our battles carefully, choosing to make an issue of only those things that we know are really critical and then following through calmly and consistently. For example, when a toddler throws a fit, we can say, “I know you don’t like this, but you need to do it anyway.” However, based on what you’ve told me, I’d say that–if you are comfortable with it–you could avoid the nap struggle in the first place.
Enjoy the fact that your daughter sleeps so well at night, and save your daytime energy for the other struggles that you are bound to encounter during this stage of your daughter’s development.