The Gentle Art of Napping

My mother was a napping aficionado. With eight children, several in diapers at the same time, the woman had to have a rest time plan. Predictably, by mid-afternoon of any summer day, the babies would be laid down to sleep, venetian blinds would be pulled down to the partially opened windows, the TV shut off, and the kitchen was closed.

Everyone from babies to teenagers laid down for a nap. During my formative years, my five sisters and I shared one big bedroom, the older sisters separated from the younger ones by an archway. I can still see my older sisters through that archway reading quietly, pony-tailed, glasses on, and their faces buried in their books. One of us younger siblings may have had some small toys, toy soldiers or some trinket that she played with quietly, and another sister and I usually talked quietly with our stuffed animals until we fell asleep, or we, too, read while the babies and my mom napped down stairs.

The reading of a book would suffice for the older kids, but ‘naptime’ was sacred. If anyone would ask me to define summer, the soft flow of sheer curtains in the summer breeze, the rhythmic tick of the clock, a lone caw of a blue jay in the sleepy yard, and the soft sound of baby’s breath in slumber would be the sweetest part of the picture.

As my mother’s daughter, this apple hasn’t fallen too far from that tree. Napping was essential, and my children went through the same training.

I tried to make our home a sanctuary of peace and order, balanced with playing pretend, music, art, magic shows, and old-fashion activities like playing board games, coloring, and constructing elaborate buildings with Lego, Lincoln Logs, and ‘stuff’ from around the house. If they weren’t playing freely outside or constructively in the house, then we were ALL quietly napping as the trees sizzled with cicadas in the triple digit heat of the late afternoon.

Taylor napping

Oh, we had our occasional outings and trips to the coast and state parks as a family, but ordinary summer days were lazy and hazy, and far from crazy. It may surprise you, but I didn’t hear, ‘Mom I’m bored,” very often.

My two children were very different in nature and age, yet I was able to get both of them to nap. It always baffles me when mother’s remark with disapproval, “Oh, we don’t nap,” (as if it’s a bad thing) or “Oh, no one makes their kids nap these days.” According to the National Sleep Foundation, taking naps, regardless of the research that supports the benefits of napping, carries a negative stigma:

“While research has shown that napping is a beneficial way to relieve tiredness, it still has stigmas associated with it.

  • Napping indicates laziness,
  • A lack of ambition, and low standards
  • Napping is only for children, the sick and the elderly
  • Though the above statements are false, many segments of the public may still need to be educated on the benefits of napping.” https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/napping

Napping was never an option in my (or my mother’s) house, like chores and respecting adults, it was an expectation that started before the children could protest, with a consistent follow-through during their early childhood years and modeling; we did it, too. Like boundaries and rules, such as having to stay in their car seat, napping is teachable if you begin early and consistently hold to your expectations; children will adapt.

Everyone seems to be going, going, going somewhere, addicted to busyness, another fact sited by the National Sleep Foundation. It’s exhausting to watch today’s young parents constantly dragging their kids from amusement parks to zoos, from here to there, all in the name of ‘hands-on’ parenting! Really, it’s okay and good for your children to have ‘normal’ home days, and ‘home’ is the best place for them to learn that not everything in life is dazzling and over-stimulating. “Hands-on” parenting also means teaching children how to calm down and entertain themselves.

It’s not that hard to teach your children self control, which is essential in napping. I remember sometimes napping with my mom and a couple of my siblings. We were not allowed to move, like not at all! If I had an itch or was uncomfortable, my inner voice would talk me through it. It was in our best interest. No one, if they were smart, wanted to get my tired mother angry when she was trying to rest!

I learned to calm my body down ‘myself,’ which in many ways was ‘training’ for life! It taught us how to listen to stories and lessons without squirming around, to patiently wait one’s turn and in long lines, to quietly watch for birds or other wild life to emerge in their own time, and it taught us how to consider other people’s comfort and not wake them up without thought of how they would feel.

I believe napping taught us SELF CONTROL and CONSIDERATION OF OTHERS, something I’ve witnessed as sorely lacking among today’s children who interrupt adult conversations and demand a constant change of venue and attention. This is due in part to the misguided propaganda that children only have a 15 minute attention span, that they must be entertained, that they are ‘smarter’ than previous generations, and teaching ‘self control’ is old-fashion and too restrictive.

Now, I understand there are exceptions. Some children have different needs, medically diagnosed syndromes, and may not find it easy or even possible to lay their heads down for a 20 minute rest or ‘wait’ for anything. I get that. But, unfortunately, too many other parents of children with no special needs have adopted this excuse because “Johnny is too active.” If Johnny is too active, than more than anything he needs to be taught, again from the get go, how to calm his body down.

Too often the parent thinks that because Johnny is too active to nap, that he must be brilliant, easily bored by common things; exceptional! Yeah, I think not. Johnny lacks self-discipline. Miraculously even the smartest of children, prior to the 21 Century, managed to take naps and attend in school. They were taught to control themselves, and napping was one ways to a means.

Parents aren’t doing their kids any favors by letting them run themselves down to exhaustion so they will sleep at night, or allowing them to dictate the course of the day or rhythm of the house. Instead, what parents are doing is setting-up those same beloved children for failure because everywhere in life, except in their own house, there are boundaries, rules, regulations, expectation of certain behaviors, and other people (like classmates) to consider.

Far too often, people just don’t understand the meaning of the world ‘discipline.’ They equate discipline with punishment (spanking, time out, a whippin’) which is actually an after effect of the cause of NOT disciplining. The word discipline means ‘to instruct.’ When we teach our children how to sit and stay in the chair at the table during dinner, we are ‘disciplining’ them in how to behave at school, in restaurants, in church, and in most public arenas in life.

It’s trite but true, children learn from example.

When we expect and teach our children how to watch a movie without talking or playing on some kind of hand-held device, we are teaching them how to be attentive when listening to a teacher and when having a conversation. But while your children are young, the parents have to do the same thing because, well, your children are watching you.

It’s the old ‘do as I say, not as I do’ dilemma.

Shutting off the electronic in order to create an environment so your child can ‘discipline’ himself to stay focused on an activity or quiet himself to nap requires diligent, mindful parenting. At some point, hopefully before their child is confused by inconsistency, parents have to shift their priorities away from trying to pacify their children, please their children, or win their love by always keeping them entertained, to providing order and routine in a well-balanced, adult run home.

It’s a challenge, I know. Like my peers, I was not raised in the digital age, but I surely enjoy those advantages now, so I understand the conflict of interest.

Just the same, as a child raised without excessive electronics, I can see the benefits of not having such distractions through my formative years. I know we would have lost out on so much if our parents were constantly on their phones and computers. It’s addictive because it’s a distraction from the tasks at hand, but the ‘task at hand’ IS parenting! Somehow parents have to shelf their own preoccupation with technology in order to consistently model conversation, engage in activities with their children without stopping to text or tweet or check their Facebook status, and illustrate the behaviors that they expect from their children.

Parenting is hard work from the minute your child takes his first breath to YOUR last breath. It always has been. But it is not a ‘reactionary’ business (they cry, scream, demand and you react). Parenting done well is a planned-out, strategic business, where you are in charge and you hold the decision making power, so you can run a smooth and manageable home and your children can learn the skills needed to be successful students and adults.

Teaching through modeling behavior is the best way for your child to learn how to nap, read, watch a movie, and attend to other learning experience without ‘getting bored.’

Try to picture your house calmed down. It’s quiet and you can think. Nothing is blaring with the sound of cartoon characters yelling or video game gunshots and military commands. Maybe your cat is purring at the end of your bed, or the dog is curled up in deep afternoon slumber at your feet.

You are unplugged.

Now imagine your children seeing you quiet yourself.

Like generations of parents before you who practiced the gentle art of napping, shut off the ringers, click off the TV, lock the doors, lower the shades, and don’t take food, your iPad, iPhone, or any other hand-held device into the bed. Don’t bribe, just DO what you want them to do. Reading a book together works like magic, for you and them. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to get your little ones to nap, especially during these long summer days.

The benefits of napping from a needed rest to learning self-control outweigh the negative stigmas and temporary disengagement from the global world. They’ll thank you someday, mine do; and you’ll also get to hang up your super mom hat and rest yourself. It’s a win-win deal and good parenting!

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