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 them going. Naps are an important part of Baby’s day, so it’s not easy to deal with if, one day, they decide that napping is the enemy, and they are 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; they are a big kid now, and doesn’t want to nap if their parents aren’t going to nap, too; you and your partner might do something really exciting when they're asleep and they don't want to miss it; or their older cousin said naps are for babies, and they are 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 they're awake, the possibility of separation anxiety, if they don't want to be awake from you for a nap, or that they might be asserting their 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 they seem not to be tired enough for a nap at their usual time, they 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 them take a picture book or soft toy to bed with them 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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