This post, When Your Toddler Won’t Nap: Battles Fought & Lessons Learned, is sponsored by tired, burned out parents everywhere. But really. If you’re reading this then let me just be the first to give you a virtual hug. Cause let’s be honest, we both need it.
A wise mom-friend of mine once gave me very eye-opening advice about being the mom of a toddler.
On a particularly tough day of parenting, I was texting a friend for moral support when she said to me, “you’re just human…and toddlers are part demon.”
In that moment I didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh or cry (truth be told, I probably did both), but what she said really stuck with me. Not in the sense that I actually think my toddler is part-demon, but in the sense that it often feels as though there’s nothing more difficult than being the parent of a toddler, especially when said toddler won’t nap.
Enter naptime. Naptime is our sanctuary, our oasis. But naptime can also be the source of EVERY.SINGLE.ONE. of our woes. I have heard lore of toddlers who go down for naps easily. I’d like to meet these mythical toddlers.
Right around 2 years old toddlers experience a second awakening.
Oh wait, I have my own opinion. I can say and do what I want. I can drop to the floor and scream over the color of a sippy cup at 6:15 AM. I can be that kid at Target. I can get out of my bed, at will, and do what I please. No nap for me, thanks!
It’s hard to know where to begin. Sure, you can Google “toddler won’t nap” and you’ll find yourself in a sea of misery with thousands of other parents across the globe who are also wondering what they’re doing wrong.
And believe me, I found myself in this situation, EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for weeks.
Googling and more Googling.
And strangely? The more I Googled, the less helpful information I found. What I really needed was a big smack-in-the-head-wake-up-call to just take a step back from the situation, take a deep breath, and follow my intuition as a parent.
Just know, when your toddler won’t nap (but desperately needs to), you are not alone.
Unlike endless, fruitless Googling, hopefully I can offer you some useful, practical tips that I have implemented myself.
These are the things I wish I knew from the very beginning. I often have to remind myself that this is why I started this website in the first place – to pass along the things that I have learned in trials by fire, and hopefully, save another mom out there the struggle of having to figure these things out the (extremely) hard way.
More Parenting Tips & Resources
- What I Did When My 6 Month Old Refused to Nap
- My 1 Year Old’s Daily Routine
- My 18 Month Old’s Daily Routine
What to do When Your Toddler Won’t Nap
In general, one of the most frustrating pieces of “advice” you’ll hear regarding this epic dilemma is “maybe they just don’t need to nap anymore.”
I really just have no response to that logic. If you’re reading this then clearly that’s not the case for your toddler.
One of the best pieces of real advice I read during all of my late-night Google searching came from The Baby Sleep Site:
“Around 2 years of age, some toddlers abruptly stop taking an afternoon nap. You might find that when you put your 2 year old down for her nap, she spends the entire hour talking/laughing/singing/playing. Or, you may find that your 2 year old’s nap resistance isn’t nearly so pleasant — she may spend the whole hour screaming!
As with separation anxiety, this sudden resistance to naps can come from your 2 year old’s desire not to miss out on anything. It can also be the result of her growing self-awareness and independence — she’s becoming more aware of what she wants, so if she doesn’t want to lie down for a nap, she’s going to let you know it!
We advise parents to treat this sudden naptime resistance as a regression, and not as something permanent. Most children won’t completely give up their naps until 3 or 4. It’s best to simply stay consistent with your 2 year old’s schedule and routine, and to not give up on the nap just yet.”
So how do you know if it’s a nap regression or if they’re just done with naps?
Well, friend. I think this one is simple. If my 2.5 year old doesn’t take a nap, by around 3PM she morphs into an inconsolable crazy person for whom everything and I mean EVERYTHING is a tantrum, everything is the end of the world, the whining is at an all-time high and bedtime is a straight-up nightmare.
Simply put, a well-rested toddler is a happy toddler. However, if your toddler goes down for bed easier without the nap and is not completely undone by 3PM, then by all means, skip the nap.
What I wish I knew months ago…
It’s not about the nap.
In fact, take the word nap out of your vocabulary. The phrase: “it’s time for naptime” no longer exists. I was convinced that if I didn’t follow my toddler’s naptime routine (which we had been doing for the better part of 2 years) that she wouldn’t nap at all.
The wake-up call came when I was doing her naptime routine as I had always done, and suddenly she was popping out of bed like a jack-in-the-box and screaming like a banshee. It just wasn’t working anymore.
P.S. fair warning to anyone transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed: at first, everything was fine, bedtime and naptime were both the same as before. It wasn’t until about 2 weeks later that it dawned on her that she didn’t need to stay in her bed. It was all downhill from there. I also realized we transitioned her too soon, and should have waited longer.
Like many before me, I stopped calling it naptime and started referring to it as “quiet time” – however, my goal was (and still is) for her to ultimately nap.
While many parents use quiet time as a transition away from naptime, I implemented quiet time in the hopes that it would result in naptime.
So here’s the trick: they have to think the nap is their idea. Telling them it’s time for a nap simply does not work anymore.
Here’s the breakdown:
- At the time you usually start your naptime routine, set them up for quiet time (you can do this in a crib or in their bedroom).
- Allow them to choose some (safe) toys they can play with and some books to “read.”
- Explain the rules: they can play quietly in their room with the toys/books they chose. Let them know that you will come and get them when quiet time is over (the goal being that hopefully they will fall asleep while playing).
- If they are resistant to trying quiet time, try plying them with snacks (something safe to eat, since you will be in another room) and maybe even say you will be back to check on them (even though you won’t).
- If they call for you, try to ignore it, unless of course they really need your help. After a few times, they’ll realize that this independent play time is fun, without mom or dad supervising and telling them “no.”
A word of caution: Toddlers are like Sirens. They will lure you into their trap only for you to realize it’s a trap after it’s already too late to abort the mission.
So if they’re struggling with this whole quiet time deal, or if they’re super overtired, as toddlers tend to be at naptime, they may call for you repeatedly to come upstairs or come into their room…
Just know, this is a trap. I mean this in this nicest way possible. In my experience, I have found that going back upstairs makes it worse, every single time. I could end up in her room with her for up to an hour, singing songs, rubbing her back, tucking her in, only for it to all be undone the second I leave the room.
The tantrums will continue to escalate and sooner or later naptime is out the window. I’ve learned that sometimes they just need to cry-it-out, and get the tantrum out of their system (alone), until they finally realize they are ready to sleep.
If you would have asked me 2 months ago…
if I thought my kid could fall asleep in her room with the lights on while playing with toys I would have thought you were crazy.
My girl is a very detail-oriented toddler and likes things a specific way. It never occurred to me that this free-range nap thing would work, but for the most part, it totally has.
She’ll play upstairs with her toys sometimes for about an hour, and then suddenly I’ll realize things have gone quiet. I’ll sneak upstairs and find her passed out on the floor amid all of her toys, stuffed animals and books.
The best part about this arrangement is that they are in control, and we all know that 2 year old’s like to be in charge. It’s pretty much like you’re empowering them to decide when they’re tired, and when to lay down.
Of course, this doesn’t work 100% of the time and sometimes she’ll just spend the entire time playing, but at least I have that time to focus on just the baby, prep dinner, watch Fuller House (#teammatt #noshame), clean, etc.
Several months later…
Naptime is not the taboo word it once was around here. There are days when my daughter will say she is tired and actually ask to be put down for a nap.
The 2 Year Old Nap Regression is most certainly a phase, and most definitely one of the toughest. Some days she doesn’t nap and I’ve learned that it’s not the end of world, that there most likely will be a nap tomorrow.
Safety Tips for Quiet Time
If your toddler is in a “big kid” bed, it’s so important that their room and any areas that they have access to are toddler-proofed. As I mentioned above, my toddler’s room is upstairs so we have:
- A baby gate at the top of the stairs.
- I also lock every door upstairs besides the door to her room.
- Every outlet is plugged
- Every cord tied up
- And every piece of furniture latched securely to the wall.
- I also keep an eye (and ear) on her with a baby monitor.
If you’re going to give your toddler free range during naptime while you’re downstairs or in another room, it’s essential that their play-space is safe.
Favorite Products for Quiet Time
- Hatch Baby Rest Nightlight & Sound Machine: (Affiliate Link – not sponsored, just truly love this product) What I love about this high-tech night light is that you can program different colors/music to play whenever you want.
- I have a “quiet time” program set up that plays a specific song and has a designated color for the entire time she is supposed to be having quiet time. You can program the night light to your phone via their app so you can adjust it as needed if you need to cut things short or extend the time.
product photo from Amazon
- For some reason, at naptime, my girl just doesn’t want to nap in her actual bed. Perhaps because she’s busy playing, or because it’s a defiance thing, who knows.
- But when I found this foxy pillow mat at Target I knew I had to buy it regardless. I spread it out on the floor of her room next to her night light in the hopes that she’ll just fall asleep on the mat while playing, rather than on the floor (and sometimes she does!). Update: this mat isn’t available anymore, but any sleeping bag or plush mat will work!
product photo from Target
Whew. That was a lot of info! But in this case, I had to lay it all out on the table.
Consider this the ultimate guide for what to do if your toddler won’t take a nap.
If you’re struggling like I was, give this a try, and hopefully you, too, can regain your sanity – and your afternoon freedom!
Disclaimer: I am not a sleep expert or professional by any means. Just a mom sharing her experiences!