We often get asked the question, “When and where do your kids nap when you do these trips?”
The answer is a pretty simple one. They nap wherever we happen to be and during whatever we happen to be doing. I am giving the caveat that we created two tiny humans who are pretty good sleepers in general.
Here are my tips on getting kids to nap while out adventuring.
This is the most important piece of advice I would give any parent, new or old. Sleep is, in my opinion, one of the single most stressful aspects of parenting new babies and toddlers. Daily happiness seems to rely on when, where, and how long a nap lasts. We live a pretty regimented, scheduled life when at home getting through our week. However, when it comes time to hit the road, or the trail, we toss most of our schedule out the window. The only times we try to absolutely maintain are mealtimes. We have found that a hangry child is more difficult to deal with than a sleepy one.
Read the Signs
Our kids are going to tell us when they are tired, no matter their age. Be present with them and listen and know when might be the time that a nap is needed before a complete meltdown ensues. For example, when out on an extended hike your strong-willed toddler is insisting on walking but is stumbling, stopping, and pitifully crying with more and more frequency, now is the time to get them in the carrier and get them asleep. One rule we have instigated on hikes is “snacks only happen in the pack”. Obviously this wouldn’t work for an older child but for toddlers who are still more than carriable this rule is golden when miles need to be covered.
Once they’re in, just be cool and don’t let them notice that they’ve played right into your plan or they’ll sense your weakness and demand to get out. This is usually when the singing starts. As the snack starts to end they’ll be so happy with their full tummy, the bouncy cadence in the pack, and joining in on the 15th round of ‘The Ants Go Marching’ that they won’t even notice when their little noggins begin to sway and eventually drop completely into a nap that every adult hiker we pass is immeasurably jealous of. Pro tip: If you are using a frame carrier that has a sunshade, put it up to give them a, somewhat, darker, more cozy atmosphere.
Now’s your chance! Make up lost miles, cover the ground needed and, whatever you do, DON’T STOP! If you stop, they will wake up. You have been warned.
If using a soft structured carrier (SSC) don’t jump the gun too early and put the hood up too soon or they’ll catch on and the nap may not happen. Let them get pretty sleepy or even close to sleep before you pop that bad boy into place.
Bring it to the Campsite
Truly living the napping while adventuring dream is having the extra time to return to your campsite and putting them into the tent to nap. LOTS of stars must align in order for this magical unicorn to occur.
Step 1. The weather must be perfect not too hot and, ideally not too sunny. The worst possible case is the horrific midwest combination of extreme heat and rain at the same time. Naps, or even sleeping, in the tent is basically impossible and you should just give up. A slight breeze is wonderful for a warmer, sunny day as you can remove the rainfly and let them snooze.
Step 2. Follow the same bedtime routine you’ve perfected at home and implement it in the tent.
Step 3. Know your child, will they sleep better with you present or with you gone and appropriately position your body.
Step 4. If you have removed yourself from the tent and the rainfly of the tent has been removed to ensure the perfect temperature has been reached you now need to be crafty so as to place yourself, and others camping with you, in places around, or near the campsite, that are still within a safe range of your tent but out of the line of the sight of the potential napper.
Step 5. Congratulations, you’ve reached nirvana and have a child completely asleep in your tent and now you can read that novel you need to read for your next book club meeting. No watching the movie for you this time, you actually get to enjoy silence and a book. Unless you have an older child who no longer naps and now is demanding your undivided attention.
As caregiver to your child it’s your responsibility to wear your small children out as much as humanly possible to ensure a nap is taken or bedtime isn’t as torturous as it could be. The longer the trip we are on, the longer the naps and the easier the bedtimes. I have (and boast regularly about it) gotten not one but, TWO kids to sleep in my lap in a canoe. I didn’t do it just one day but TWO days in a row. For reals, we’d been traveling for over a week and we were all exhausted. That meant easy naps and short bedtimes because they needed it just as much as we did!
Never Say Never
Often, as parents, we approach situations having preconceived ideas about what our children are capable of. So many times I think “She can’t do that.” “He won’t cooperate with that.” Push these thoughts aside and just see what happens. I truly think you will be surprised by what your children are capable of and all the strange places and positions in which they can sleep.