Getting kids to take a nap can be a struggle, especially when it feels like you’ve tried everything. Read these tips for when your toddler won’t nap.
Naps shouldn’t be this difficult, I thought to myself.
I know other kids who can nap in two-hour chunks. My kiddo? I was lucky to get 45 minutes.
Sometimes he’d nap for long stretches, but only if he was sleeping in the swing or baby carrier. And while this worked for a while, he soon got too heavy to rely on either gear.
I was puzzled how he could sleep so well at night, but resisted his daily naps.
What to do when your toddler won’t nap
So I tried a few tactics that seemed to work better than others. Tactics that changed how he took naps and even extended the time he slept.
I hope they can work for you, too.
1. Tell—don’t ask—your toddler to take a nap
We set ourselves up for instant refusal when we phrase the necessary as a question: “Do you want to take a nap?” In the evenings, you wouldn’t ask your toddler, “Do you want to sleep?” There’s no way he wouldn’t sleep in the evenings, but we phrase nap times as optional.
Say, “It’s time to take a nap.” You can’t force someone to fall asleep, but you can reserve the next hour for napping, no matter what.
2. Explain the importance of taking a nap
I’m a fan of giving my kids reasons, especially when they resist. When you highlight the importance of taking a nap, kids are likelier to oblige. They know you’re not just springing a nap on them for personal reasons or because you’re being The Bad Guy.
Tell her taking a nap makes her stronger and healthier. And how she gets to rest with her stuffed animal. Or that he can stay up late to watch fireworks.
3. Establish a routine
And by routine, I mean two things:
- A daily routine. Structure your days so that you do the same things around the same times. You can vary what you do during awake times, but try to keep nap times consistent. My 11-month-olds nap between 9:30am to 11am, and again at 2pm to 3:30pm. What we do during their awake times can vary, but we generally have the same daily schedule.
- A sleep time routine. This routine is what you do right before your kids take a nap. This can include reading books, singing songs, a massage or saying good night. Keep this consistent and predictable so your kids associate them with taking a nap.
4. At the same time, be flexible with sleep signs
If one of my twins is rubbing his eyes, yawning, looks out of it and generally tired, I’ll put them down sooner. Routines help establish a flow, but we also have to be open to irregularities.
5. Create a smooth transition
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
I noticed my child resists naps when I spring them out of nowhere. He could be in the middle of molding play dough when i’d say it’s time for a nap. His head was still immersed in the cool effects of rolling play dough and making circles. Nap time can wait, he’d think.
For a smoother transition, I now give him a “heads up.” I remind him he has 10 more minutes to play before nap time.
And during those closing minutes, keep your environment calm. Perhaps lower or turn off the music. Pull the curtains to dim the room. Finalize his play dough projects—little things to let him expect that nap time is next.
6. Create a calm sleep environment
Long gone are the days when we made our newborns sleep in sun-lit rooms. That was when they couldn’t differentiate day from night. And they needed to reserve their long stretches of sleep for bedtime.
Now, our infants and older kids can enjoy a dark, soothing nap environment:
- Install darkening curtains that will block out bright light. We got something similar to this one.
- Turn on white noise to muffle sounds from the rest of the house.
- Remove loud, battery-operated toys from their room and place soft, comfort toys instead.
- Make sure their beds are comfortable. Do the crib sheets need changing? Are their pillows in a good position, or are they smashed into the crevice between bed and wall? We got our toddlers organic pillows like these to make sure they’re extra comfortable.
- Check the room’s temperature and aim for somewhere between 68 to 72 degrees. Or, if you’re like me and don’t have a temperature reader, just feel it out.
- Avoid using the crib as a “time out” area.
7. Don’t end nap time right away
Don’t feel obligated to cut nap time short if your toddler wakes up before the designated time is over. Instead, check he doesn’t need a diaper change or lost his teddy bear, for instance. Then leave him in him room.
He’ll fuss, but explain that nap time isn’t over yet, and that he can still try and put himself to sleep. If he continues to cry, check in again 15 minutes later. Pop your head in for 30 seconds at most and explain that mama’s still here and that it’s still nap time.
Don’t pick him up just to put him back down (unless you need to do something like a diaper change). Doing so frustrates him even more.
Pick him up once the designated time for nap is over. He’ll have a chance to fall back asleep. Plus, you’re also teaching him that nap times aren’t over because he cries.
8. Determine how much sleep your toddler needs
Not all kids will sleep the recommended 90-minute nap (90 minutes is a typical sleep cycle). Even though my twins nap for 90 minutes, my eldest at that same age would only nap 45 minutes. To expect him to stay in his room for another 45 minutes would be unfair since he hardly ever sleeps that long.
You’ll know how much sleep they need if:
- You see a pattern emerge. Like my son, your toddler may only nap around 45 minutes long on most days. Note how long your toddler typically naps and see if you find a pattern.
- Your toddler is happy. If you feel like your child isn’t sleeping enough and he’s crabby during the day, then he needs to sleep more.
9. Provide alternatives to sleeping
Some kids resist the idea of sleeping, saying they’re not tired. This isn’t an excuse to skip naps altogether. Instead, implement “quiet time.”
Give your toddler alternatives during this quiet time. This can include playing with stuffed animals, reading or even singing—all while in bed. He might even fall asleep. And if he doesn’t, he will at least have rested in a calm, darkened room (and we could catch a much-needed break).
10. Keep quiet yourself
While some kids can sleep through traffic horns and sirens, others can wake up at the slightest sound. Save loud chores—vacuuming, returning dishes to the cupboards—for when your kids are awake. You’ll kick yourself for a short nap because you decided to clean your bathtub.
What happens if your toddler skips a nap?
It’s going to happen: Your kids will skip nap. Maybe he’s phasing out that third nap or his nose is stuffed up and he can’t breathe easily lying down. Or he’s too excited about his day or because he’s just feeling cranky.
- Children six months and younger: Get her up and try again an hour later (or when you feel enough time has lapsed for her to feel tired and ready for sleep).
- Children six months and older: keep them awake until the next designated nap time.
This can be hard. You’ve now got a cranky child who didn’t nap and would fight another one if you tried to put him down any earlier. Hang in there.
11. Determine if your toddler even needs that nap
No parent wants to forgo that extra nap, but maybe your toddler is ready to phase out a nap. Let’s say he has been napping twice a day but is now resisting that second one.
Try this: note how many days he has skipped that nap. If he skips that nap five days in a row, drop that second nap and put him down once in the middle of the day. The older kids get, the less time they need to sleep.
All that said, here’s one piece of advice I’d like to leave you with. The most sanity-saving and important:
12. Don’t beat yourself up
So simple, right? Seems silly to even say it. But if you’re like me, you’ve given yourself much grief and stress because your kid didn’t nap. Because he cried and cried, and nothing you did would make him fall asleep. Where parenthood feels like an endless cycle of putting your kid to sleep. And where life seems to revolve around nap times.
It’s amazing how personally we take naps sometimes.
Yet life doesn’t end because your toddler skipped a nap. Weeks, months and years will continue. At that point, the thought about stressing over naps will seem trivial. You haven’t failed. You’re still a good mom, skipped nap or not.
So, let’s wrap up:
- Tell—don’t ask—your toddler to take a nap.
- Explain the importance of taking a nap.
- Establish a routine.
- Watch out for sleep signs.
- Create a smooth transition.
- Create a calm sleep environment.
- Don’t end naptime right away.
- Determine just how much sleep your toddler needs.
- Provide alternatives to sleeping.
- Keep quiet yourself.
- Determine if your toddler even needs a nap.
- Don’t beat yourself up.
p.s. Check out Naptime by Elizabeth Verdick to help your child get in the mood to take a nap:
Get more tips:
- No Cranky Naps: How to Help Your Child Wake Up Happy
- Helping Your Toddler Transition from Two Naps to One
- How to Wake Up a Toddler Peacefully from a Nap
- 1 Year Old Nap Schedule: Examples that Actually Work
- What to Do when Your Toddler Wakes Up Screaming Every Morning
Does your toddler wake up cranky for naps? My guide, No Cranky Naps, gives you the exact tips, strategies, and mindset shifts to finally turn those cranky naps around. Want to see if it can work for you? Download a preview chapter, at no cost to you. You’ll also get my newsletter, which parents say they LOVE:
“Thanks Nina for all you write—I swear every piece you write sums up my life as a mum! And it’s a relief to realize all this is normal!” -Margaret Biggsy
Did you like this article about what to do when your toddler won’t nap? Share it on Pinterest and Facebook!