Help! My toddler refuses to nap

Just like with meals, when it comes to sleep, toddlers have smaller tanks to draw upon for energy, and end up needing to recharge a bit more often than an adult might. Baby might not be sleeping around the clock anymore, or feeding every couple of hours, but the occasional snack, and the occasional nap, are important parts of what keeps him going. Naps are an important part of Baby’s day, so it’s not easy to deal with if, one day, he decides that napping is the enemy, and he is not going to do it.

Why does it happen?

When it comes to the specifics, there are probably as many reasons for a toddler to refuse a nap as there are toddlers: there’s a bug under that rock that really needs looking at; he is a big kid now, and doesn’t want to nap if his parents aren’t going to nap, too; you and your partner might do something really exciting when he’s asleep and he doesn’t want to miss it; or his older cousin said naps are for babies, and he is a toddler now.

More generally, though, there are a few common threads for why toddlers might not want to nap. The big ones are how interesting the world is when he’s awake, the possibility of separation anxiety, if he doesn’t want to be awake from you for a nap, or that he might be asserting his independence by saying no, and the nap itself isn’t even really the issue.

What can I do to help?

You and Baby are at the point where naps probably are going to keep dwindling, especially if you have a reluctant napper on your hands, but there are a few ways you can help encourage nap time to stick around a little while longer.
  • Routine: Following the same steps before nap time every day, and letting those steps echo your bedtime routine as much as possible can help to encourage sleepiness, especially in children who are already tired, even though they resist.
  • Flexibility: On the other hand, toddlers are in such states of constant growth that it is possible that your little one’s sleep needs are evolving. If he seems not to be tired enough for a nap at his usual time, he could be ready to transition to a shorter or later nap.
  • Timing: Planning out your day so that there’s plenty of time for active fun early on, and then some quieter activity just before nap time could help to encourage the right mood for a nap.
  • Atmosphere: Even toddlers who don’t nap need a little time to wind down. If you think it might help keep nap time from turning into a power struggle, converting that time into “quiet time,” and letting him take a picture book or soft toy to bed with him to rest with can give a lot of the same effects, and can sometimes even convince a reluctant napper to get a little sleep on the sly.

  • “Getting Your Baby to Sleep.” American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 21 2015. Web.
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