Hands up if your two-year-old is now going through, or has previously gone through, a nap strike?
Chances are most, if not all, parents are putting their hands up right now. Nap strikes somewhere around the 2-year mark are a common occurrence. This is a time where your little one is going through some developmental leaps like language explosions and learning that she can assert her independence. Unfortunately, naps are often where your little one will assert that independence by refusing to sleep, not staying in bed and making you think naps are a thing of the past. I’m here to tell you though to take heart. Naps don’t have to be over. I generally suggest not giving up on naps until a child is at least over 3 (and some make it to 4 like my cute little man). If you stay the course and have a mindset that there is light at the end of the tunnel, you’ll soon find that your independent little toddler will start napping again. Phew, right?
Here’s how to handle the nap strike and make it out the other side:
Make sure you have a consistent sleep schedule.
Sometimes toddlers will stop napping when their schedule is off and they are becoming overtired. When they are overtired it can be harder to fall asleep at naptime because their bodies are geared up to fight the tiredness. Check that they are going to sleep at a reasonable time at night and getting plenty of sleep overnight.
Sometimes, as toddlers get older parents start to change their naptime because they feel their little one can handle a longer awake time. However, from the time a toddler drops down from 2 naps to 1, till they stop napping entirely, the time that they need to nap is consistent (between 12:30 – 1). If your toddler’s nap time has moved later for any reason, pull it back up to 1pm at the latest and see if that helps restart the naps.
It is important to also be consistent with your toddler’s wake up time. A 6 – 7 am wake up time is normal for a toddler. If you let your toddler sleep in until later than this it will completely throw off their entire sleep schedule and make napping at an appropriate time difficult.
Keep offering naps.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your 2 year old no longer needs that nap, so you don’t offer it. Keep offering that nap and give your toddler 1.5 hours in the crib to at least rest and have quiet time. Sometimes even saying to your toddler you don’t have to sleep but you have to have quiet time can take the pressure off your little one and you may find he goes back to falling asleep. Tell him that while he doesn’t have to sleep, he does have to rest in bed. During the “quiet time”, you can put a quiet, non-stimulating activity into the crib for your toddler to do, like a book to read or a stuffed toy. Nothing noisy or too distracting because we want there to still be a chance he’ll drift off. Still keep the room conducive to sleep, with dim lighting. A bright room is unlikely to help your toddler fall asleep during rest time!
You can even use an ok to wake clock for nap times. That way your toddler knows when they need to lay in bed and when they can get up. There are many different ok to wake clocks that can work well, but my favorite is this Claessens’ Kids Kid’Sleep Classic Sleep Trainer.
Have a chat about sleep with your toddler.
You may like to try talking to your toddler about sleep in an age-appropriate manner. Let them know why napping is important. You can say things like: they will have more energy to play and run and have fun or you will be able to schedule more playdates and activities in the afternoon. You can even explain how you feel when you don’t get enough sleep: “Mommy feels grumpy and doesn’t have the energy to play as many fun games, is that how you feel now because you haven’t napped today?”
If they express why they don’t want to nap then validate their feelings. “You are frustrated that you have to nap because you want to keep playing. You can play more after your nap” or “You wish you could spend more time with mommy. Mommy will come and get you after nap time and give you lots of big hugs and kisses”.
Look at your nap routine.
Toddlers often have lots of activities on their plates – preschool, play dates, playground visits. Sometimes it can be hard to get back into the house until right on nap time, which means the nap routine falls by the wayside. Start trying to get home half an hour before naptime so your toddler can wind down and you can reinstate a calming nap routine. The nap routine is really important as it not only acts as a cue to sleep, but it also starts to relax and wind down your toddler after the excitement of the morning.
Compensate for missed naps.
Make sure to compensate for the missed naps with an early bedtime. If you don’t move up the bedtime you will find that your toddler will likely slip into overtired mode, which will cause more issues and can continue to make napping even more difficult. Don’t be afraid of a super early bedtime! You may even find just doing this for a few days, will put your toddler on the road to naps again, if overtiredness was a factor in the nap strike phase.
If you try these tools to deal with the nap strike, you should find that within a few weeks to a month your little one will start napping again. As you are handling this nap strike, try to remind yourself that all this is temporary and normal and if you stay calm and remain consistent things will soon turn around. However, if you feel you need support during this process, please feel free to reach out. I provide packages to suit all needs and budgets.