I love when my toddler naps: we get a break, he’s rested, and there’s no pressure about skipped naps. But the moment right after a nap? That can be a challenge. Because it seems our toddler wakes up crying after every nap.
I was talking to a friend who has a son around the same age as mine. “I love when Noah wakes up from a nap,” she began. “I’ll hear him talking or singing right after he wakes up. When I walk in I’ll find him sitting up and smiling at me.”
Here’s what happens at our house: Our toddler wakes up crying and screaming. We rush in with his milk in hand, and that will placate him for maaaaybe the thirty seconds. He’ll either demand more or resume crying and complaining. Sometimes he’ll say he wants to go back to sleep but protests when we make arrangements for him to do so.
The crazy thing is he doesn’t wake up cranky in the mornings. He wakes up like my friend’s son—talking, singing and yes, smiling. Apparently grouchiness is reserved for mid-day naps. I don’t blame him—I tend to feel out of sorts when I wake up from a nap and assume he feels the same.
Either way, my husband and I have helped him wake up happier—and less cranky—after his naps:
What to do when your toddler wakes up crying:
- Have milk and snacks ready. Do you give your child milk and snacks after her naps? Have them ready while she sleeps. You don’t want to scramble around the kitchen filling her cup of milk.
- Give a snack before he naps. For some—picky eaters especially—waking up from a nap on an empty stomach sends them into a bad mood. Maybe that has to do with low sugar levels or their appetites gnawing at them. Give your child a light snack before napping to stave off any hunger pangs that might come up while he sleeps.
- Gradually transition your child’s room. In the past, we would walk into his bedroom and begin pulling the curtains back and turning the fan off. It’s easy to do this when we’ve been sitting in the living room wide awake in bright sunlight. Napping kids, not so much. They need more time to transition to awake time.
- Along the same lines, keep conversation to a minimum. Not only would we pull the curtains back, we’d talk to him right away, animatedly and everything. With empathy, we could see he wasn’t ready to talk, answer questions or even hear our voices just yet.
- Give him time to wake up before rushing to the room. Another mistake is rushing in the minute you hear even the slightest rustle or whimper from his room. Give your child a few minutes to compose himself and realize that he’s awake. He’ll be in a much better mood by the time you walk in.
- Offer a comfort item. Our little guy sleeps with his lovey. (Update: We’ve even given his baby brothers their own loveys as well.) We’ve also given him a favorite toy or book that he can play with or read on his bed.
- Read books in bed. Sometimes all my son needed was a simple ritual of reading books. Compile a few favorites and have them handy for his after-nap wake up. If not books, try other rituals like singing songs or massaging.
- Soothe. When all else fails, just be there for your little one. Sometimes all she needs is a good rub on her back or to sit on your lap.
- Expect the inevitable. If your child was grouchy before the nap, he’s likely to be grouchy after. My toddler tends to fuss and cry even before the nap. When this happens, almost always does he wake up just as cranky, if not more. I’ve learned to accept this fact because I know he’ll get over it in time. The sleep he gets from napping is necessary despite the bad mood.
- Stay calm. Watch your reaction because he’ll mirror it. Do your best to keep your frustration small, giving yourself a pep talk beforehand if need be. (“This isn’t his fault. I get cranky after naps too. He’ll calm down soon.”) Your own bad mood could send his spiraling even further, causing a back-and-forth cycle.
- Remember this happens to the best of us. Like I mentioned, I’m not chipper the minute I wake up from a nap. Since naps tend to be short, we don’t get the full deep sleep cycle that night time affords. Plus, nearly everyone has felt disoriented after waking up from a nap. It’s normal to wake up cranky sometimes.
As with anything with kids, nothing is ever guaranteed. Just today, we spent 45 minutes consoling a cranky toddler after a long nap. It was just one of those days. But with comfort, transitions and a ton of empathy, we know what to do instead.
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Tell me in the comments: How do you handle it when your toddler wakes up crying?
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