As kids move into the toddler and preschooler stage, they can get more stubborn! Many two or three-year-olds decide that they’re no longer interested in taking naps. As you might imagine, this can make toddler sleep training difficult. But what are you supposed to do when your stubborn toddler refuses to nap?
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You say your stubborn kid won’t nap? Try these tips:
Don’t drop the nap too early
I tell parents to encourage naps for kids until they’re four years old. This is because when kids drop their nap too early, before their body is ready, it can quickly lead to your child becoming overtired and disrupting their nighttime sleep.
Just because your kid doesn’t WANT to nap doesn’t mean they no longer NEED to nap. Similarly, just because your child doesn’t WANT to wear a jacket to play in the snow, doesn’t mean they don’t NEED to wear a jacket in the snow. These are decisions parents should make, because sleep is related to their children’s health and well being.
Find the right time window for naps
For kids over two, a good time of day to try for naps is between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. I recommend starting closer to 12:30 p.m. when they’re two and move later as they get older. The ultimate goal is to have them nap for at least an hour.
In the morning before that nap window, make sure your child gets some time outside if possible. Having sun exposure helps with melatonin production, and having them run around and burn off energy is a great thing to do before lunch. Then, that after-lunch window becomes the perfect time for a nap.
Try out a wind down period
Some kids need a wind down period before a nap. This could include removing all screens to avoid getting too stimulated, and doing something calm like drawing, working on a puzzle, or looking at a book. What does your child find calming? Putting on lotion, scratching their back, taking deep breaths? You could encourage these calming things to be done in a dim room to lead into a nap time window.
Sometimes these settling skills need to be practiced, and that’s okay. It may not come easy at first, but it’s an important skill. So, feel free to sit with your child and model this behavior.
Then, start a short version of your bedtime routine. Kids are creatures of habit and that’s the point of a routine - to build the habit that after you do these steps, it’s time for sleep. This could include washing hands, some snuggle time, reading a book, or singing a song before lights out.
Avoid the “crap nap”
If your child is in a rebellious stage of toddler sleep training, try to avoid what I call “crap naps” - like falling asleep on the couch or dozing in the car. Sleep should happen in their bed.
If they take a crap nap BEFORE nap time, they’re likely to skip the entire nap because that little dose of sleep has given their body a little bit of false energy. Yes, even just two minutes in the car! And you can be sure that they’ll be a cranky disaster by bedtime.
If they take a crap nap in the late afternoon instead of their regular nap, the whole bedtime routine will suffer because they won’t be tired enough to go to sleep.
So, to recap: their only option for daytime sleep should be at the set nap time. Sticking to the schedule is the best way to encourage napping.
Rebrand the nap
You can also start to rebrand the nap around three years old if you see your child start to rebel against sleep. You can start calling it quiet time instead of nap time. That way, even if they don’t fall asleep, they stay in their room doing some calm, quiet activity. Doing this still gives them a chance to fall asleep if their body needs to, and also gives everyone a midday break.
If your child is really resistant to staying in their room, try offering them choices instead of engaging in an argument. Divert their attention by asking questions: Would they like to stay in their clothes or put on PJs? Go under the covers or stay on top? Snuggle this lovey or that lovey? You hold the boundary for them staying in their room while offering them other choices to focus on.
If you don’t offer any quiet time or required time in their room during the day, they may ditch the nap too early, which is exactly what you want to avoid.
Don’t give up on the nap! Toddler sleep training can be a bear, but trust me, you’ll be doing your future self a favor to try and hang onto the nap for as long as possible!
If you're struggling with sleep and you think daycare naps may be the culprit, check out this post>> Toddler Daycare Naps Ruining Bedtime?