4 Reasons Not to End a Nap When Your Toddler Wakes Up Early

Do you end nap time the minute you hear your toddler cry, even if it’s earlier than you planned? Learn why you shouldn’t get him up just yet.

4 Reasons Not to End a Nap When Your Toddler Wakes Up Early

Even if you’ve learned how to get your toddler to nap without a fuss, what do you do when he still wakes up early and feels cranky and upset?

No parent likes to hear the beginnings of a cry after a nap, especially when it’s a full-on wail and much earlier than you hoped for. You feel an urge to rush inside, comfort your toddler, and stop the tears as quickly as possible.

Despite all these reasons, resist the urge to barge in the minute you hear him whimper or cry. As much as it feels like you’re supposed to end nap time at the first sound of a cry, holding off—even for just a few minutes—has its benefits. Take a look at why you shouldn’t end nap time early when your toddler cries:

Your toddler has an opportunity to self-soothe

As strong as the pull is to comfort your child when he’s upset, so too is there value in allowing him to learn how to soothe himself. Regulating his emotions is a key skill to master in many aspects of his life. He needs to know he can manage through difficult times. 

You’re teaching him not to feel anxious about waking up and that it’s not as scary as he may think. More importantly, you’re giving him a chance to try settling down first on his own before you come in. 

He might even go back to sleep. His whimpers may not always mean he’s wide awake, but rushing in only makes sure that he is.

I’ve made the mistake of hearing a short cry or whimper only to rush in, assuming my son was wide awake. It turned out, he’d only been half awake and may have had a chance to fall back asleep or was simply crying out in his sleep. Once I learned my lesson, I didn’t react the minute I heard these sounds and instead allowed a few minutes to pass. The next thing I knew, he had fallen back to sleep on his own.

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Your toddler won’t feel alarmed

Seeing you frantic at his tears can feel alarming to your child. As real as his emotions may be, you also don’t want to inflate them to anything more than they are—emotions that will pass soon enough, not a catastrophe.

Not rushing in right away also helps you not to overreact. You run the risk of making nap times—and their ensuing successes and “failures”—more important than they are, and he’ll notice your mood. The more anxious, frantic, or frustrated you feel, the more he’ll mirror the same emotions.

Avoid acting like he’s in the worst pain, losing your temper with his behavior, or showing disappointment that might make him feel guilty or ashamed.

Your toddler learns it’s okay to be awake and quiet in bed

So far, your child has seen that the result of waking up crying means nap time is over and that mom or dad will come and pick him up. He doesn’t learn that it’s okay to settle himself in bed or wait for you to come pick him up. That it’s okay to lie down for several more minutes, cuddling his comfort item, or babbling in bed. That he’s safe right where he is.

By not ending nap time right away, you’re teaching him the value of waiting.

Waiting a few minutes after he cries isn’t a call to ignore his needs. Use your best judgment in telling which kinds of cries warrant your attention and which can stand a few minutes of waiting. Think of it as providing an opportunity for him to learn to soothe himself first before assuming you’re the only one who can do that job for him. 

You get a break

Nap time may be the only break you have away from your child the whole day. And when naps are cut short because of early and cranky wake-ups, you don’t always get the break you need.

Set a pre-determined time slot for when nap times should begin and end. Based on his typical length of naps, you decide what time to get him up rather than relying on his cries to determine it.

Final thoughts

As tempting as it may be to rush in when you hear your toddler wake up early from a nap, there are many reasons not to react. Nap time is over at an official, pre-determined time—and not the minute he cries.

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