By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My 3-year-old son now resists a nap until late afternoon. Of course that affects his behavior. (We also have a 5-month-old baby boy, which is part of the problem.) If our 3-year-old eventually puts himself down for a nap in late afternoon, bedtime is a nightmare.

How hard should we try to get him to nap? I don’t think he is ready to drop it, based on his mood on days when he doesn’t get one.

A. Most children start dropping their afternoon nap after age 3. Ready or not, your son seems to be moving in that direction.

His new baby brother may be a reason to stay awake. Five-month-olds are much more exciting for young children than newborns. Everybody else is captivated by babies at this stage, too. Your son doesn’t want to miss out on anything – especially if his brother is in on it.

You’re right that a late afternoon nap postpones bedtime. Instead of a nap, might you set up an early afternoon “quiet time”? Don’t call it a nap. You might even avoid using the bed where he usually naps.

Set up a regular time and place for him to cuddle with you, and for you to read stories together. Or ask him to stay quietly in one spot – a mat or a few cushions – for 30 to 45 minutes. He may surprise you and fall asleep. If not, at least this quiet time may keep him from falling apart later.

Also consider moving his bedtime a half hour or so earlier. Think of this new schedule as a combination of nap and nighttime sleep. You may find that even if he goes to bed a little earlier, he wakes up in the morning at the same time as before.

On average, 3-year-olds need 10 or 11 hours of sleep each night and an hour’s nap. Children who don’t get enough rest in a 24-hour period often have trouble falling asleep, and their sleep is disrupted at night.

But even if you can’t get your son to nap, he may soon be able to get all the sleep he needs at night.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.