Struggling when your toddler won’t nap, especially when it feels like you’ve tried everything? Learn how get your child to finally take a nap!
Naps shouldn’t be this difficult, I thought.
I knew other kids who could nap in two-hour chunks. My kiddo? I was lucky to get 45 minutes.
The nap time routine of putting him down for a nap was already exhausting on its own. From changing diapers to reading books to singing songs, these rituals seemed so pointless when I knew nap time was barely going to last.
Nap times weren’t the breaks I needed. Instead of putting him down to finally be alone, I spent those few moments on edge, listening for when he’d wake up crying soon after.
At one point, I burst into tears—tired, frustrated, and feeling so defeated from the lack of naps. As if I was doing something wrong, or that was something was wrong with him. How could he sleep so well at night, but still resist his daily naps?
What to do when your toddler won’t nap
Perhaps you can relate. Nap time in your home involves your toddler taking forever to nap or crying until you get him up. Getting him to even start the nap time routine is a struggle. It doesn’t help when he’s cranky by the early evening, tired from the lack of sleep.
Rest assured, you’re not alone friend. I knew my toddler was still too young to drop naps, so that wasn’t even an option I could consider. But by changing a few ways of dealing with nap time, I learned how to get him to nap more consistently.
These tactics changed how he took naps and even extended the time he slept during the day. They may not be your typical parenting tips you always hear about, but I hope they can work as well 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?” After all, you wouldn’t ask your toddler in the evenings, “Do you want to sleep?” There’s no way he wouldn’t sleep in the evenings, yet 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.
The more consistently you set expectations—and follow through with them—the more willing he’ll be to go along with them. Naps are simply what happens, no question about it.
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2. Explain the importance of taking a nap
As I’m sure you’ve realized, kids don’t always like being told what to do. They feel bossed around, losing their “voice” or a say in the matter. So, when we tell them to nap, it’s easy for them to shrug it off and outright refuse.
That’s why I’m a fan of giving them the reason behind why we’re asking them to do something, especially when they resist.
Tell your toddler the importance of taking a nap to make him likelier to oblige. That naps make him stronger and healthier, or that he gets to rest with his stuffed animals. Add a special incentive, like how taking a nap means he can stay up late to watch fireworks or go to a family party.
By explaining the importance of taking a nap, you’re not “bossing” him around or springing nap time for no good reason.
3. Establish a routine
One of the best ways to make sure nap times aren’t a nightmare is to establish a routine, a consistent way of doing things on a daily basis. That way, your toddler knows what to expect, and will automatically oblige with little resistance, because this is what she’s grown used to.
Routines are two-part. The first is what I call “pillar” routines, or the familiar structure of your day. Do the same activities around the same times so she senses the general “flow” of your day. Keep nap times consistent, while being flexible with what you do before and after.
The second is your nap time ritual, or what you do right before she takes a nap. This might include reading bedtime books, singing songs, giving her a massage, or turning on a night light. Keep this consistent and predictable so she associates them with taking a nap.
4. Be flexible with sleep signs
That said, do be aware of your toddler’s sleep signs. After all, we’re human and don’t operate like clockwork. We have days when we’re ready to nap, while others we’re up and wired. The same is true for him.
If you notice her rubbing his eyes, yawning, looking “out of it,” and acting generally tired, put him down sooner than later. Routines help establish predictability and flow, but we also have to be open to irregularities.
5. Create a smooth transition
I noticed my toddler resisted naps when I sprung them out of nowhere. He could be in the middle of molding play dough when I’d say it’s time for a nap. He’s still focused on the cool effects of rolling play dough and making circles. Nap time can wait, I’m certain he thought.
For a smoother transition, give your toddler a “heads up.” Remind him he has 10 more minutes to play before it’s time to read books and take a nap.
And during those closing minutes, keep your environment calm. Lower or turn off the music, pull the curtains to dim the room, and finish his playtime projects. That way, the transition to nap time doesn’t come so suddenly.
6. Create a calm sleep environment
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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 like these that will block out bright light.
- Turn on white noise to muffle sounds from the rest of the house.
- Remove loud, battery-operated toys from his room and place soft, comfort toys instead.
- Make sure his bed is comfortable. Do the crib sheets need changing? Are his pillows in a good position (or are they smashed into the crevice between bed and wall)? I got my kids 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.
- Avoid using the crib as a “time out” area. He should associate it with rest and calm, not punishment.
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 that everything is okay, then leave him in him room until the official wake up time.
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 you’re right here but 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. Instead, pick him up once the designated time for nap is over.
By not ending nap time when he cries, you’re giving him the chance to fall back asleep and 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 my eldest would only typically nap for 45 minutes. To expect him to stay in his room for another 45 minutes would be unfair since he hardly slept that long.
You’ll know how much sleep your toddler needs if:
- You see a pattern emerge. He may only nap around 45 minutes long on most days. Note how long he typically naps and see if you find a pattern.
- He’s generally happy. If you feel like he isn’t sleeping enough and he’s crabby during the day, then he likely needs to sleep more.
9. Provide alternatives to sleeping
Some kids resist the idea of sleeping, claiming they’re not tired. Given their age, this doesn’t always mean they can 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 quietly 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 you could catch a much-needed break).
And remember to keep quiet yourself. While some kids can sleep through traffic horns and sirens, others can wake up at the slightest sound. Save loud chores for when he’s awake. You’ll kick yourself for a short nap because you decided to vacuum or return dishes in the cupboards.
10. 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 she’s been napping twice a day but is now resisting that second one.
Try this: note how many days she skips that nap. If she does it five days in a row, drop that second nap and put her down once in the middle of the day. The older kids get, the less time they need to sleep.
11. Don’t beat yourself up
If you’re like me, you’ve given yourself grief and stress because your toddler didn’t nap. When he cried and cried, and nothing you did would make him fall asleep. When parenthood feels like an endless cycle of putting him to sleep with no luck, and 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, my friend. You’re still doing fine as a mom, skipped nap or not.
Shrug it off and instead accept that he didn’t nap well. It doesn’t have to make the rest of your day horrible, nor did he do it to make your life worse. It’s simply something that happened, and that won’t matter in the future.
No doubt, staying calm and collected when your toddler won’t nap is a hard ask for even the most patient mom. Thankfully, you can still do plenty to get him to sleep well.
Start by telling him to take a nap instead of phrasing it as a question, explaining the importance of taking a nap in the first place. Establish a daily routine so he knows what to expect, while being flexible with sleep signs. Create a calm sleep environment, as well as a smooth transition into nap time.
Don’t feel compelled to end up nap time when he cries, basing it instead on how long you want him to stay asleep. That said, determine how much sleep he even needs. If he doesn’t sleep, provide alternatives during quiet time.
If he seems to be skipping naps consistently, determine if he even needs that nap or if he’s ready to drop to one nap. And don’t beat yourself up over missed or messy naps—you’re still an amazing mom for the very fact that you’re here doing your best.
You can get the break you deserve—no more difficult naps, friend!
p.s. Check out Naptime by Elizabeth Verdick to help him get in the mood to take a nap:
Get more tips:
- How to Get an Overtired Toddler to Sleep
- What to Do When Your Toddler Wakes Up Too Early Crying
- 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
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