When your toddler resists naptime

One thing new parents learn in their first hours or days on the job is that sleep may be one of the most basic primal drives that keeps human beings alive, but for some babies, it doesn’t always come easily or naturally. Even those who have never had any trouble drifting off to dreamland can start to have some trouble settling down to sleep as they grow into toddlers.

Not every toddler decides to take naptime down, but it’s fairly common for young toddlers to decide that naps aren’t their favorite activity at around Baby’s age. These toddlers may also resist going to sleep at bedtime, or it can be a nap-only aversion. In either case, when a toddler starts protesting against going to sleep, it’s usually for one of two common reasons.

  • Separation anxiety: For many toddlers, separation anxiety peaks a little younger than Baby is, at around 18 months. For others, though, it can peak later, or stay strong for longer. This means that, for many toddlers, naptime may not feel like just a time to rest – it can feel like a scary separation from the people she likes most in the world. If Baby starts to resist naps at around the same time that she starts to get a little bit more antsy about staying with Grandma for the day, it may be because of separation anxiety.
  • Hanging out with you is just too much fun: The other reason a toddler may not want to bring her entire day grinding to a halt is that she is just too curious and excited about the world. Toddlers aren’t great at transitions yet, and going from getting to run around and play and have fun to having to lie down quietly until they fall asleep is a pretty big transition. Even if they’re tired, many toddlers don’t like to slow down long enough to nap.

There’s no one solution to toddler nap resistance, but it’s generally not a sign that a toddler doesn’t need a nap anymore. There are a few different strategies parents often try on reluctant nappers – and sometimes they even work! When it comes to sleep and the stubborn toddlers who need it, often it comes down to trying everything you can think of, and settling on whichever unique set of circumstances works for your family.

  • Quiet time: Try telling your toddler that she doesn’t have to sleep – but she does have to lie in her bed quietly and rest for a while. Sometimes, this might be all your little one needs to actually drop off for a little nap. For others, it might just go exactly as you describe it, but that quiet time, when both you and Baby have the chance to settle and collect your thoughts, can be valuable all on its own.
  • A change of scene: Compared with the big production that is bedtime, naps are a bit less extreme. They take up a lot less of the day than sleep at night does, and let your toddler get back to playing before she knows it. It may not always feel like that to a toddler, though, especially if naptime happens in the same space as bedtime. Moving your toddler’s nap to a different space can help solve that problem, and letting her nap a little nearer to you can help address separation anxiety.
  • Ahead of the game: Toddlers who are overtired can have a harder time winding down and relaxing enough to sleep. Trying to adjust naptime so it starts a little earlier can sometimes be helpful.
  • Following routine: Toddlers aren’t great with transitions, and having a solid, regular bedtime routine can help smooth the way between being awake and being asleep for your toddler. If your family’s bedtime routine doesn’t translate well to naptime – like if it centers around the bath – coming up with a winding-down routine specifically for naptime can help as well, though it can take a little while to establish the connection between the new routine and sleep.
  • Keeping her company: For some parents, lying down beside their toddler to nap with her can feel like giving in, and for others, it just doesn’t work at all – toddlers who don’t want to stop playing to nap sometimes just want to keep playing with you, if you’re lying down next to them. For a few, though, napping together can be a restful short-term solution for riding out the end of separation anxiety – and getting a few sleepy cuddles in along the way!

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