Q. Our son -- not quite 3 -- and our 4-month-old baby are a lot of fun, but the boy presents a problem. He has been resisting his nap for nearly a year, even though he clearly needs it.

He goes to preschool two mornings a week and sleeps from about 8 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., but he doesn't want to take his two-hour nap, as he used to do.

After he does nap, he is lively and enjoys his visits to the library, the playground or to a friend's house in the late afternoon, but if he goes without a nap, he will conk out in the car before we have even gone a block and he'll be a holy terror by 5 o'clock.

I have been putting him down for his nap after lunch and a story, but he stays in bed for only a little while and then gets up and starts destroying his room.

I don't think he does it to be mean but because he is an active, athletic little guy. He will take all of the clothes out of his bureau, remove the shoes from his closet, knock the books off the shelf, take pictures off the wall, turn over the changing table and even climb the furniture. After that he sometimes passes out on the floor in exhaustion, but either way, the afternoon is ruined, because it takes us so long to clean up the mess or because he's in an awful mood.

And yet if I go to him as soon as he climbs out of bed, it turns into a game; if I promise to take him to the playground after his nap, he tries to bargain with me; if I take away his favorite toys, I feel terrible; and if I lie down with him, he may sleep but only until the baby cries or the phone rings.

A sitter might help at nap time but we can't afford one, and a video might help but we don't like him to watch more than two in a week. So what do we do?

A.You do what every mother does when her child gives up his nap.

You feel sorry for yourself. You lower your expectations. You endure.

Most 3-year-olds need to sleep about 12 hours out of every 24, but some think they don't, and others stop napping for a few months and then go back to it.

Your son will do that, however, only if you keep insisting on a quiet time every afternoon for him -- and for you.

When you put your boy down for a nap, call it a "rest" instead and then give him some books to look at or turn on some soft music in his room or play a story on tape. These activities will give him the quiet time he needs and they may even put him to sleep, especially if he's worn out from a morning at preschool.

After settling him quickly, go to your room, unplug the phone and take a series of deep, slow breaths to help you fall asleep, at least until one of the children starts yelling. Even then, feel blessed. A 20-minute respite can refresh you as much as a two-hour nap.

But if your boy starts making noise in his room, go to him quickly, thank him for resting so nicely, give him some quiet cuddles -- and don't expect him to sleep that afternoon.

If you can accept his changes, and change your schedule -- and his -- life will be easier for your family.

Like many homemakers, you may prefer to do most of your chores in the morning, when you feel more energetic, but try doing some of these jobs at night -- or not at all -- so your little boy can go to the library or the playground when he's feeling his best. This may make him tired enough to sleep in the afternoon, particularly if you start putting him to bed at 8:30 at night, instead of 8.

During this transition from some naps to no naps, read your boy that classic book "The Napping House" by Audrey Wood (Harcourt; $19.95), which comes with its own musical cassette, and "Time to Sleep" by Denise Fleming (Holt; $6.95) to put him in the mood for dozing. You'll know you're ready to surrender to the inevitable, however, when you read Eve Bunting's charming "No Nap" to him (Clarion; $6.95) and it doesn't make you cry.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.