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 usually hear him talking or singing right after he wakes up, so that when I walk in I’ll find him sitting up and smiling at me.” Smiling?!
Here’s what can happen at our house: We’ll hear our toddler either start whimpering or flat-out screaming at the top of his lungs when he wakes up. We rush in with his milk in hand, and that will placate him for maaaaybe the thirty seconds it takes him to down the whole thing. He’ll either demand more, or proceed to crying right away and complain. Sometimes he’ll say he wants to go back to sleep but protests when we make arrangements for him to do so.
The funny thing is that he doesn’t wake up cranky in the mornings. He actually wakes up like my friend’s son; talking, singing and yes, smiling. Apparently grouchiness is reserved for mid-day. I don’t blame him—I tend to feel out of sorts when I wake up from a nap and can imagine that he feels the same.
Either way, my husband and I have gotten better with helping our little guy wake up happier—and less cranky—after his naps:
- Have milk and snacks ready. Okay, so this didn’t exactly solve the problem by itself because clearly he can still wake up cranky even when handed a cup of milk, but I imagine he may be even more cantankerous if we were to withhold his beloved drink.
- Don’t change his room too much. I remember we would walk in to his bedroom and one right after another brighten up the room for wake-up time: pull the curtains back, turn off his fan and start playing with him. It’s easy to do this when we’ve been sitting in the living room wide awake in bright sunlight, talking and completely coherent. Napping kids, not so much. They need more time to transition to awake time. Now, we’ll turn off his fan and pull the curtains back just a tad—and that’s it.
- Along the same lines, keep conversation to a minimum. Not only would we abruptly pull the curtains back, we would start talking to him right away, animatedly and everything. Again, with a bit of empathy, we could see that he clearly wasn’t ready to jump in on conversation, answer questions or even hear our voices just yet.
- Give him time to wake up. Another mistake we did was rushing to our toddler the minute we heard even the slightest rustle or whimper from his room. I found that when we gave him a few minutes or even seconds to compose himself and realize that he’s awake, he’s in a much better mood when we walk in. Of course if he wakes up hysterical as if he were frightened from a dream then we rush in, but for softer sounds, we give him a few moments to wake up.
- Offer a comfort item. Our little guy sleeps with his blankie, but we make sure to find him in his bed in case he’s not holding on to him. We’ve also given him a favorite toy or book that he can play with or read on his bed.
- Soothe. When all else fails, just be there for your little one. Assuming she’s not pushing you away or making unrealistic demands (a potential tantrum trigger), 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. Since my toddler isn’t exactly thrilled at having to stop his midday activities to go to sleep (he’s probably thinking, “Nap? Booooring!”), he tends to fuss and cry before a 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 eventually, and the rest his nap offered is usually much needed.
- Realize that this happens to the best of us. Like I mentioned, I’m not exactly 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. When you’re ready to lose your cool, try to put yourself in his shoes and understand that it’s perfectly 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 a bit of comfort, more subdued transition and a ton of empathy, we can help our babies and toddlers wakes up happier and less cranky after a nap—and keep ourselves a bit more sane.
How do you handle your kids when they’re cranky after a nap? Let us know in the comments below!