How to Get Your Toddler to Nap without a Fuss

Convincing kids to even take a nap is half the battle, don’t you think? Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be a power struggle every day. In this article, let’s talk about how to get your toddler to nap without a fuss.

How to Get Your Toddler to Nap without a Fuss

My son and I had been playing with bubbles when I looked up at the clock. “Oh, it’s nap time already!” I bolted up from my seat, rushed to his room to clear the toys, and hollered, “Come in here—it’s time to take a nap!”

You can imagine how well he took to taking a nap (and that was when he was in a good mood). Unfortunately, a grouchy child before a nap will likely feel just as grouchy after. After all, it’s unfair to expect your toddler to wake up happy when the events or his mood leading up to the nap have been difficult.

Let’s focus instead on making that transition into nap time as comfortable and pleasant as possible. While you can’t control his feelings, you can focus on making the pre-nap experience positive. Keep these pointers in mind to make the moments right before nap time that much better:

Allow enough time to transition into the nap

Kids resist nap time because they see it as an interruption to what they’re currently doing. You can imagine how it must feel to be in the middle of a game or play with a new toy, only to have to stop and take a nap.

Compared to playing with a toy, lying in a barren bed with nothing to do but sleep isn’t exactly enticing. 

Allow enough time to transition to a nap by giving your child a heads-up that it’s approaching. Let him know he has a certain number of minutes before he has to sleep, counting down until the last few minutes. This gives him time to mentally shift from playing to sleeping instead of springing nap time out of the blue. 

And start letting him know with plenty of time to spare. Even now, I’ll let my kids know anywhere from 15-30 minutes ahead of time when nap time will be. Naps don’t come as a surprise right when they’re in the middle of play. 

Rituals play an important role in transitioning to naps. No matter how brief these rituals may be, they signal and ease your child into nap mode. You might clean toys, use the potty, change into new diapers, read two books, sing lullabies, and draw the curtains to signal nap time.

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Remind your child that he can resume his activities

Kids don’t have the same concept of time as you and I do. Your child might assume he’ll never get to play with that same toy when you tell him it’s time to stop. He’s more likely to resist if he thinks this is his one chance to play with it.

Tell him that he can resume his activity right after nap time and that his toy isn’t going anywhere. Naps are breaks from playing, but once he’s awake, he can go right back to his favorite activities. 

To further reassure my kids, I even place the toy right outside their bedroom door so they know it’s ready to play with the minute they walk out. Other times, I’ll leave their toys exactly as they are and won’t put them away or even touch them during naptime.

Your child learns that nap time is only a brief break from playing and that he’ll get to play once again after waking up.

Highlight the perks of nap time

Even though naptime can seem boring compared to your child’s activities, find a way to highlight its perks. For instance, remind him he can hug his favorite stuffed animal while he naps, change into the comfortable pajamas he loves, or try out his new pillow or blanket. Taking a nap can also mean staying out later at Grandma’s for dinner.

Highlight a perk he can understand and enjoy to make nap time a positive experience he can look forward to. Naps don’t hold the same thrill of playing in the living room, but they can have their own benefits. 

Watch how you talk about naps

Think about how you discuss naptime with your child. Do you…

  • Treat naptimes like a dreadful part of the day?
  • Threaten early naps if he continues to misbehave? 
  • Rush home feeling stressed, trying to make it in time for a nap?
  • Say, “You have to take a nap” in a stern voice?

How you talk about naps can affect the way he takes to them. Spoken in a negative way, naps aren’t a positive part of his day but one he’s come to dread. They’re punishment when he doesn’t obey or the stressful event that causes both of you to lose your tempers. Rather than something to look forward to, naps have become an obligation and a source of power struggles.

Watch how you talk about naptime moving forward. Naps may not be the most fun part of the day (it shouldn’t be, especially if he’s supposed to be resting), but don’t talk poorly about it, either. Make naps important—a chance for him to get stronger or sleep with a beloved stuffed animal. And reassure him that everyone takes naps, even adults.

By talking about naps in a positive way, you’re helping him look forward to—or at least accept—them when they come.

Make naps comfortable

Nap time success relies on how comfortable your child feels settling in and falling asleep. The more comfortable he feels, the more likely he’ll enjoy his sleep and wake up happy.

For instance, no one likes having to pee while they sleep. If he’s using the potty, encourage him to go before nap time. Even if he wears diapers during naps, he’ll feel more comfortable having emptied his bladder, making for better sleep.

You might also want to change him into comfortable clothes. Jeans or collared shirts may make naps less comfortable. Pajamas or what I call “house clothes” (simple elastic pants and t-shirts) are more comfortable to sleep in.

Make his room conducive to sleep by removing loud distractions and keeping the room dark. Use a white noise machine (or even a fan or heater) to muffle noises that might startle him awake while he sleeps.

Meet your child’s needs

We expect a lot from our kids. We expect them to behave, think of others, manage their emotions, and follow directions.

The problem is that they have limited resources. Your child can only behave so much before he feels depleted of energy and willpower. Everyday challenges are hard enough—imagine going through them without his basic needs met. He could be hungry, overtired, or sick. He might be pining for your attention or struggling with emotions he still can’t process.

You don’t have to bend to his every demand, but find potential culprits that could contribute to his difficult behavior.

For instance, having a routine makes it more likely to meet his needs because you’re covering your “pillar events” on a schedule. 

Ask yourself why he has been frustrated and dig deep into reasons you may not have considered. If he seems overtired, experiment with moving naps and bedtime. If he’s been struggling with adjusting to a new school, talk and read books about that experience.

You’re being a detective and digging for a reason other than assuming he feels grouchy every day. After all, it’s pretty rare for a child to act up “for no reason.” 

The bottom line

You can’t control how your child will wake up, but you can control the activities that make the transition to nap times easier and more positive. Apply these steps to make his naps more pleasant. We can’t always expect a miracle out of our kids, but creating a pleasant transition into nap times can be the next best thing.

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