How to Get Your Toddler to Nap

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Any parent will agree with me that nap time is a critical time of the day, but it’s not so great when your little human is doing everything but napping

Getting a toddler to nap can be a nightmare. I remember falling asleep while trying to get my firstborn to nap, back when he was a toddler. Other times I would be sure I left him sound asleep in the crib, then as I sat down to rest, I would hear his little voice calling me from behind the couch. He kept this habit of creeping out of his crib for the longest while, and I just had to figure out how to get my toddler to nap. 

I’ll share my top tips to help you get your toddler to nap, so both of you can have some energy for the rest of the day.

Why Is My Toddler Resisting Nap Time?

  • Your toddler is overtired: Toddlers have a thin line between tired and overtired. Once they cross that line without getting some sleep, they develop a surge of cranky energy. This irritable energy is then diverted into fighting sleep. Make sure your little one is getting between 11 and 14 hours of total sleep each day.
  • Fear of missing out: Getting Dora the Explorer to sleep in the middle of her jungle explorations is probably impossible. Your child believes they have too much running and exploring to do. Napping is clearly not on their schedule, and they find it boring.
  • Separation anxiety: Some toddlers are ever anxious about drifting into slumberland, especially if they are the kind to cry when they wake up alone. The fear that often comes at night could unfold itself during daytime naps too.
  • Internal clock: If you’re not keen on making sure your toddler sleeps during the day, their bodies are probably tuned to staying awake during the daytime and sleeping only at night when it’s dark.
mom reading story book to toddler

Consistently Maintain a Sleep Routine

Naptime gets a little easier each day when your child is sleeping at the same time each day. A routine also adds to your toddler’s development, since they get emotional stability and a sense of security from the predictability of their world. Set a specific time for your child’s naptime, no matter what time they wake up in the morning, and maintain that time consistently.

They probably won’t drop everything and sleep as you start the routine, but be patient and stay consistent. With time, their body clock will set them to feel sleepy and agree to fall asleep at their usual times. If your child attends daycare, synchronize the nap times with yours on weekends.

Set the Mood for Naptime

Now that you’ve set a routine time for napping, prepare some pre-nap activities to set the mood for your toddler. The ritual can be as simple as having lunch, then a potty trip or diaper change, and reading a short story while playing relaxing music—after which you put your toddler to bed when the nap alarm time rings. The activities will lead your babe to a calm mood, which is necessary if you want to do away with nap crankiness. 

The fact that your toddler is aware of what to expect as both of you journey through the activities makes the transition to sleep easier, as opposed to being plucked off the sofa in the middle of their favorite cartoon because the nap alarm rang.

Tire Out Your Little One First

Have you ever had a nap right after hitting the gym or a lengthy jog? You’re in slumberland before you know it. 

Do the same for your toddler in the morning, and get them to max out their energy. An energetic toddler will have a much more difficult time trying to get to sleep.

Tempting as it is just to let your toddler stay indoors reading books and watching TV, this will lead to them resisting nap time because they have a lot of pent up energy. Visit the playground, indulge in an activity, or just spend time playing in the yard every morning. The fresh air, natural light, and running around will give your toddler an environment to blow off some steam.

Combined with a consistent routine, this playtime will lead to an inevitable heavy nap for your toddler.

Maintain the Same Sleeping Space

If my toddler ever got sleepy when we were on the couch, I’d quickly turn down the TV volume. Then I’d ‘whisper-shout’ my husband’s name and direct him to draw the curtains and bring me a blanket. I would cover the kid and literally remain so still until he slept. 

In the car, if I saw any sleepy symptoms, I’d turn my radio off and slow my speed till he lulled to sleep. I was so scared of nap time; I cherished any moment he slept by himself.

Clearly, I was unaware of how much damage this was adding to our already injured naptime experiences. A toddler needs to associate their crib or bed with sleepy time. Once you let them fall asleep anywhere, the minute you try to make them sleep in the crib, especially for day naps, they won’t resonate or link the place to sleep. 

Carry out your pre-nap activities in their bedroom, and when you notice your child seems sleepy, lead them to the crib or bed. Let them associate the room with sleeping.

Once you maintain the same place for sleep, whether or not they’re sleepy, they will at least be used to the fact that the room is meant for sleeping. That way, you have eradicated the rebellious cranky toddler.

Distress at Daycare

If your toddler is the new kid at daycare, then you’re probably getting a small side talk from the caregiver about your child’s tough time sleeping. Napping in a new location is sometimes tricky, even for adults. So expect your toddler to have trouble getting some shut-eye in this new location that they’re still trying to discover and embrace into their world.

Inform the caregiver of any napping rituals you have when at home—implementing them at the daycare will aid the transition for your toddler. Take time with your child and help them find a comfortable spot, perhaps give it a name, and this will make your toddler begin to love it since they chose it themselves. Carry your child’s lovey along and make them feel more at home when they’re on their new spot.


Sibling Rivalry

My son would go out of his way to keep his younger sister up when she was a toddler, and we already had a tough time sleeping. I quickly noted that this was simply a cry for attention

Older siblings, especially if the age gap is small, often feel insecure about losing your full attention to the younger toddler. Naptime is a very intimate time with the baby, and in the eyes of an insecure older child, it’s definitely too much time.

Involve your older child in pre-nap rituals, making it something you look forward to doing with them. Make them feel like you really need their help in the process. 

Not only do you give them security for the attention they were craving before, you’re also grooming them for the responsibility of being an older sibling. If they’re still at the age where they need to nap too, you can kill two birds with one stone and get them both ready for nap time.

The Wandering Toddler

Some toddlers will randomly drop by for a visit during nap time. If the little spiderman is climbing out of the crib, it may be time to introduce a toddler bed. This is for your child’s own safety. 

On the matter of leaving the crib or bed, make your toddler aware that nap time is not something to negotiate on. When they walk out of bed, calmly and firmly walk them back. The keyword is calm because if you start a loud lecture about their behavior, you could end up in a whole new tassel all together. It may take a few teary trips back, but they’ll get the gist of it eventually.

Try Quiet Time

The frustrating truth is that you may do all you can to put your toddler to bed, but you cannot force the sleep. Older toddlers are gaining awareness of their independence, and standing their ground just might be their way of living their autonomy. To match this growth, try and meet your toddler halfway. Drop the demand for nap time and call it quiet time.

Next, invest in some fun and safe toys that you’ll put in a designated basket that can only be used during nap time. The toys need to be safe to bring to the toddler’s bed. Initially, time alone wouldn’t be as enticing, but hopefully with the introduction of toys and not calling it nap time, you’ll be able to lose some of the tantrums.

Whether or not your child falls asleep during quiet time, they still reap the benefits of resting, which is much better than none at all. Dim the room’s light and leave your toddler in bed with the toys for an hour or two. Chances are, your toddler will actually quiet her way into sleep, and if not, rest is essential too, so no harm is caused.

Time to Cut on Nap Hours

If, after all these, your little one still persists on resisting the naps day after day irrespective of all your efforts, it’s time to assess whether she’s ready to drop one of the naps, or not nap at all depending on their age.

Your toddler may have come of age to suffice without needing a morning siesta. If this is your situation, allow your toddler time to transition and adjust to the new sleeping schedule, and be open to any modifications.

boy with laptop

Reduce Their Screen Time and Sugar Intake

Nearly every parent is guilty of this, and no one can blame you. But sometimes, we have to stop using the TV as a babysitter and avoidance tool for dealing with our kids when they’re being too needy. 

Kids can get clingy, and it’s all fun and games when you haven’t seen them in a while until you’re on leave, and they’re craving attention the whole day. It’s easier just to put on their favorite show and have them glued there until it’s their nap time.

The reality of the matter is that screen time has been proven to bar a child’s ability to sleep well or even fall asleep at all. 

If you’re working too much or feeling the mom-guilt, sometimes you feel the need to compensate with sugary gifts for our kids. Or you might just get a little too indulgent with the sugary end of our shopping. That right––there might just be the reason why your toddler is having a hard time napping, not because you’ve read all the storybooks a million times.

Foods and snacks with processed sugar are part of the foods that worsen children’s sleep abilities.

Reducing your child’s screen time allows them an opportunity to play, jump, and run around, and that just fires up their body to allow them to want to unwind and relax during nap time. Reducing the processed sugars ensures that while your toddler burns off the extra energy, they haven’t had an intake of external stimulants that would lead to them remaining wired when they should be napping and resting.

Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Sleep

Now that your baby has grown into a toddler, getting them to nap every single day may feel like a formidable task. I can’t say how many times I ever felt like giving up and just winged on about whether the kid would fall asleep by himself or not. 

If you’re feeling like this, I promise you it’s possible to get them to nap easily. Find out which of the reasons may be causing them to have trouble sleeping. Next, check the solution. Learn what you need to start doing and what you should stop doing. 

Maybe your toddler should just do some quiet time, so try that. If your toddler has outgrown the morning nap, much as that was your ‘me time,’ be happy about it because your toddler is growing up. Now with the power invested in you by the knowledge you have just gained, I now release you to put your toddler to sleep like a boss!

Cristin is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.