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Is your toddler refusing to nap all of a sudden? Or maybe toddler nap time battles have always existed for you. Although getting your toddler to nap well everyday may feel like a herculean task, I promise you it can be done!
As a sleep consultant, I’ve spent the last several years figuring out exactly how to get toddlers to nap easily everyday. Nap training toddlers is a combination of setting up the right routine and activities, plus lots of communication.
It’s completely normal for toddlers to fight naps. They’re learning what they can (and can’t) control in their worlds. But, most 1-3 year olds need a daily rest. The following 7 steps walk you through how you can get your resistant toddler to easily nap everyday.
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How to Get Your Toddler to Nap
#1. Keep a consistent routine everyday
When your child sleeps at the same time everyday, sleep comes so much easier. That’s because his body clock is set to feel drowsy and accept falling asleep at predictable times. And the more you can keep up a consistent toddler nap schedule, the better your little one will nap. If your toddler naps well at daycare, keep your schedule the same as theirs.
Yes, this means you’ll need to prioritize your toddler nap schedule on the weekends. But having a toddler that naps easily means you get a few hours to yourself every Saturday and Sunday!
Routines play an important role in children’s development. They give toddlers a sense of security and emotional stability, because their world becomes predictable.
The best strategy on how to get your 1 or 2 year old to nap well everyday is: wake your child up at the same time each morning, and keep a consistent nap time and bedtime.
A toddler that naps twice daily needs awake times of 3-4 hours. A toddler napping once daily needs awake times of 4-6 hours. That’s a pretty big range, so finding the exact awake time that your toddler needs takes some trial and error.
When in doubt, go with short awake times and extend them if you see that your toddler isn’t yet tired enough to nap.
My Daily Schedules & Developmental Activities guide has several examples of sleep and nap schedules for toddlers. Plus lots of ideas for activities and creative play to do with your little one.
#2. Burn off extra energy before nap time
Toddlers have a lot of energy. That’s a given. In order for your child to be able to relax enough to sleep in the middle of the day, he has to spend time expending energy in the morning.
If your toddler spends the morning indoors (with lots of screen time) then he’ll probably fight nap time. He’s got too much pent-up energy!
Make a point of visiting a playground, walking/riding a scooter around the neighborhood or playing in the yard each morning. Natural light, fresh air and the ability to run around are the best way for your toddler to blow off steam.
On rainy or cold days, just 15 minutes outside twice a day can be enough. Resist the urge to clock up on screen time on bad weather days. Not only does this prevent our toddlers from having physical activity, it can actually overstimulate and wire them. This makes it especially hard to relax the body and brain.
Indoor Activities for Your Toddler
#3. Restrict sugar and screen time.
Yep, I said it. The decision to give your toddler sugar or screen time is yours as the parent. No judgement here (been there, done that!)
When your toddler has no screen time or sugar and the opportunity to run around each morning, you’re setting his body up to be able to wind down, relax and accept nap time everyday. He’s burned off any extra energy and not been given external stimulants which could keep him feeling wired.
This doesn’t have to be permanent. Commit to 3 weeks of getting your toddler to nap by limiting sugar and screen time, and see how much his sleep improves.
#4. Use the same sleep space, day and night
The most restful sleep is motionless sleep away from the distractions of the day. Snoozing in front of the TV, in the car or on the sofa might help to “take the edge off,” but it’s poor quality sleep. And will probably lead to a grumpy toddler come late afternoon.
Plus, having your toddler sleep in the same space, night and day, maintains consistency. She won’t be confused with what you want her to do. She knows that the crib (or her toddler bed) equals sleepy time. The more consistent your toddler’s sleep space is, the less opportunity she has to fight naps.
Don’t worry if your toddler goes to daycare. Toddler rooms are usually darkened and quiet. (Ask your daycare to play white noise!) She’s clever and will understand that she sleeps on a mat at daycare and in her crib at home.
RELATED: How to Extend your Baby’s Short Naps
#5. Start a pre-nap calming routine
Young children need transitional time to go from action-packed mornings to quiet rest. If you’re pulling your hair out wondering how to get your 2 year old to nap everyday, here’s a great tip: Start a pre-nap calming routine.
Include a calming routine in your toddler’s nap schedule everyday. Repeatedly doing the same activities, at the same time, is a proven way to help your toddler relax and fall asleep. You can do a shortened version of your bedtime routine. The familiarity will help your little one understand that it’s time to unwind and sleep.
Here are some example toddler nap time routines from my nap training program.
#6. Keep your toddler “in the loop”
Even if your toddler isn’t speaking much, he understands a lot. And he wants to control it all! Remember, toddlers will naturally test the limits of their newfound independence and how much control they have over their day.
Communicate your expectations. Let your child know what decisions he gets to make each day, and what decisions are “set.” For example, he can choose what color cup he uses or which book to read before nap time. But nap time itself is “set.” There’s no ambiguity over if nap time will happen (or even when.) It’s a fixed point in his day, just like meal time.
Give your toddler fair warning each day that nap time comes after lunch. If your toddler has been refusing to nap for a while, make a story book with him as the central character explaining how sleep helps him grow up to be “big and strong.”
Explaining things beforehand gives your toddler time to understand that napping is a regular occurrence in his day. You may even convince him that it’s a great idea!
Use a visual daily routine chart so your toddler can see the flow of activities each day. It’s harder to fight something when it’s written and hanging on the wall!
Books to Read When Your Toddler Won’t Nap
#7. Commit to 2-3 weeks of getting your toddler to nap
Often, your toddler fighting naps is just a phase caused by a regression or schedule issue.
Some toddlers will slide right back into their nap routine after a few days doing the above steps. While others might “kick and scream for a week before accepting nap time” as one mom put it to me. Your toddler will learn to accept napping everyday because of your consistency and determination.
Having to deal with a toddler that refuses to nap is frustrating, to say the least. Although fighting naps is normal for a 1 or 2 year old, it’s not a sign that your toddler is ready to stop napping. Most children under 4 years old need restorative daytime sleep. They’re neither emotionally nor physically ready to handle 11-13 hours of straight awake time.
Toddler development is at marathon pace both intellectually and physically. Sleep is the only way toddlers can restore themselves. This means parents should try their hardest to get their toddlers to nap until they reach the right developmental stage to stop napping altogether.
My Daily Schedules & Developmental Activities guide has several example daily schedules from 6 months all the way to 4 years old. It shows you how to fit in all your toddler’s needs, including creative play ideas!