How to Get a Resistant Toddler to Nap

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How to get toddler to nap - A little boy that refuses to nap.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.

Find out if your toddler still needs a daily nap here.

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How to Get Your Toddler to Nap

1: Keep a consistent routine everyday

2: Burn off extra energy before nap time

3: Restrict sugar and screen time

4: Use the same sleep space, day and night

5: Start a pre-nap calming routine

6: Keep your toddler “in the loop”

7: Commit to 2-3 weeks of getting 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.

 

RELATED: How to Get Your 1 Year Old Sleeping Amazingly!

 

#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.

PaintingpuzzlesPlay-Dohbuilding blocks and other creative activities give your toddler the mental stimulation they need when trapped indoors.

These guidelines from WHO explain how much physical activity kids need each day.

 

Indoor Activities for Your Toddler

 

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Kids Painting Kit

Wooden Peg Puzzle

Play-Doh

Building Blocks

#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!) 

But the reality is that screen time has been shown to inhibit children’s ability to fall asleep and sleep well. And processed sugar worsens sleep in kids too.

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.

 

RELATED: 2 Year Old Sleep Problems (& Solutions)!

#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

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Reward charts

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#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!

Let’s stay connected!

12 Comments

  1. Chrissy Barlahan

    How can I hire Jilly or someone directly? I am beyond desperate and my son doesn’t fall under the age bracket of the 21 day trading guide

    Reply
  2. Ashten Fraser

    Hi my LO is 13 months today and she has been struggling with napping for about a month and I’m losing my mind. She was sleep trained. Has 0 problems going to bed at night (7:30-8) and wakes up around 8-9am. But she refuses to go to sleep unless I rock her to sleep. I’ve done the reading a book, white noise, & black out curtains but when I put her in bed she just loses her mind screaming and crying. I really don’t know what to do. She will sleep for 1 to 2 hours if I rock her to sleep at 11am (she’s usually tired by then) but refuses to take a nap later in the day. I don’t know what to do.

    Reply
  3. jan

    Hi my daughter is 15 months and in the last week just started to do one long sleep stretch at night 5-6 hrs. After this she wakes regularly every 45min-2 hrs and at about 4:30 refuses to go back into the crib or sleep unless she is nursed and in bed with me. Up until recent she would wake 5-8 times a night starting at 7:30 pm. I am beyond exhausted.
    As for her napping, she always napped in motion 1.5 hrs. Since this is no longer possible as I am preparing her for the sitter, because I will head back to work. I have started to lie down beside and nurse her as this is the only way she will go down, she stays asleep for 45 min and awakes, if I catch her in time and nurse her she falls back asleep for another 45 min. I have tried to hold her and rock her, but the minute i place her down in the crib she wakes. I need help…. I have tried so many techniques and am so exhausted and lost.

    Reply
    • Alyssa Taft

      Hello Jan, Thank you so much for your post! It sounds like we just need your LO to learn how to fall asleep independently without any sleep associations, such as nursing or motion. I would definitely recommend signing up for our FREE Exhausted Mom’s Survival Kit to start implementing some healthy sleep tips now. If you are interested in teaching your LO to fall asleep independently, definitely check out our 21 Days to Peace and Quiet program. We will teach you how to do this step by step, night by night. Happy to answer questions you may have! Alyssa, BSMS Support Team

      https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/exhausted-moms-survival-kit
      https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/21-days-to-peace-quiet-program

      Reply
  4. Tara

    Hi there,

    Our toddler is almost 23 months and has been resisting naps for the past two+ months (every since we have been on COVID lockdown — both parents working from home). Do you have any suggestions? She was nap and sleep trained prior to this. She has no issues going to sleep at night although some nights she will toss and turn longer than usual. There is rarely any night waking, and when there is, she can put herself back to sleep. We continue to follow our nap routine, and will take her out of her crib if she hasn’t fallen asleep after an hour. She will take her nap if she is held in our arms so we know that she is sleepy and does want to nap!

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • panagiota

      Hi there Tara

      A lot of kids have been affected by this lockdown. Keep being consistent and things will hopefully get back to normal. Have you tried the tips from this guide? And is she getting out enough, to play and burn the steam? Also, she might be a bit “scared” by this situation. When you put her in the crib try reassuring her that you’re there and everything is fine.

      Hope this helps. Panagiota, BSMS Support Team

      Reply
  5. Jarrod Champion

    My toddler is two and a half…he used to nap great until a few months ago. After that he will only nap in the car. Trying to get him back into napping in bed. He doesn’t cry or fuss, he just won’t stay in bed. How long do we give it until we’re done trying for the day? And is it ok to take him in the car after trying for an alottrd amount of time?

    Reply
    • panagiota

      Hi there Jarrod

      We would suggest that not offering the car for naps is the best way to get him napping in his bed again. It may take a week of trying for naps in his bed, but once the car isn’t an option anymore then he should go back to napping in his bed. Try for 60 to 90 minutes every day at the same time to get him to nap. In addition to the tips in this guide. If he’s crying very hard I wouldn’t try for more than one hour.

      Please try these tips and let us know how things work out. Panagiota, BSMS Support Team

      Reply
  6. Michelle

    What if your toddler cries after you put them down? How long to you let them cry for? And for how many days? Thank you this was a great article by the way.

    Reply
    • Alyssa Taft

      Hello Michelle,

      If you prefer a step-by-step guide to get your LO sleeping through the night, then I highly recommend our program, 21 Days to Peace & Quiet. In this program we offer 4 step-by-step sleep training methods. You choose the one that feels best for your LO. We have super gentle & gradual all the way to quick & efficient. Our quick and efficient method is the check-in method and Jilly’s program offers a guide that tells you how many minutes crying is allowed before needing to check-in. Each step of the way you get advice based on your baby’s developmental stage, energy levels, and temperament. I used this program for my daughter and she was sleeping through the night within 5 days using the check-in method!

      You can find out more info on the program here: https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/21-days-to-peace-quiet-program

      When you are 100% consistent in following the steps of the program, your baby will be sleeping amazingly within 1-3 weeks. It depends on the method you choose as well as your baby’s adaptability. But we cover all of this in the program!

      Happy to answer any questions you have.

      Have a great day! / Alyssa, BSMS Support Team

      Reply

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