The Toddler Who Refuses to Nap

Written by Melissa Arca MD

Toddlers and not napping are three words that never go well together. And yet, right around the ripe old age of two, many children start to put up quite the fight when it comes to naptime.

Does this mean they don’t need a nap? Should I make my child take a nap? Help, my toddler doesn’t nap anymore!

These are questions and pleas I hear all the time from mothers in desperate need of that one to two hour window of reprieve. Sleep is important for all of us, this much we know.

But, how exactly do we make a toddler take a nap? As you and I both know, we really can’t make a two year old do anything.

The art comes in the form of gentle coercion and setting the magical scene that will translate into a solid and predictable nap-time.

Sounds simple right? Believe me; I know this can be quite the struggle. My son gave up his naps right before he turned three. This seemed way too early for me, especially since I had a newborn on my hands and rest at that point was not just a luxury, it was a necessity. Unfortunately, his naps never magically reappeared. I cursed the nap gods but realized he was catching all the zzz’s he needed at night.

So while trying to determine whether naps are gone from your life forever or whether you’ve simply hit a bump in the road, the two questions you should ask yourself are:

how many hours is my child sleeping at night and is this enough?

Children between the ages of 2 and 4 need about 11-15 hours of sleep within a 24 hour period. This is such a huge range and if you’re lucky enough to have a child that falls on the latter end of the spectrum, your child will most definitely still be taking a midday snooze.

I, however, had a wonderfully active toddler who clocked 11 hours at night and apparently that’s all he needed. If I was fortunate enough to lull him into a nap, it always came at a price, namely a super late bedtime. So, I no longer enforced his naptime.

He (and I) still needed some down time during the day, so I starting scheduling quiet time (for both of us). More on that later.

Now that you’ve figured out how much your child regularly sleeps at nighttime, how do you know if that is enough, or if he still needs a nap? If he regularly shows you signs that he’s sleepy, such as eye rubbing, yawning, zoning out, or is easy to meltdown, then in spite of his resistance, naps should still be part of his day.

Create a naptime routine that is a mini version of his bedtime ritual. Give him fair warning too. Tell him that after his snack and some coloring, it’s time for a nap. Children this age refuse naps because they can.

It’s an opportunity for them to exercise some control over their world. By letting him know what to expect and prepping him with a naptime routine, he can better accept what is to come.

Still won’t nap? Start instituting quiet time.

Even if he’s ready to kick those naps to the curb, he would still benefit from some down time. You will too. Tell your resistant napper that he may play quietly in his room with books, cars, or puzzles. Let him know that you will set a timer and that he can come out to play after an hour.

I have been doing this with my three year old daughter recently as she has started to resist naps. About half the time, she ends up dozing off and on her own terms. Quiet time is completely working in our favor.

As you can see, nap scenarios vary from one child to the next. Some will stop napping at age two, while others will be on the verge of entering kindergarten and still crave a midday nap. The key is determining your child’s sleep needs and making sure she gets it within a 24 hour period.

The bottom line is this: nap or no nap, children and parents need down time during the day. Whether this comes in the form of a nap or quiet time will depend on the needs of both you and your child.

When did your child give up napping altogether? Did you benefit from some quiet time?

Dr. Arca is a pediatrician. She works part-time while raising her two young children, Big Brother (age 6) and Little Sister (age 3). She is passionate about writing and writing about motherhood, parenting, and children’s health is what she does best. Dr. Arca blogs regularly at Confessions of a Dr. Mom

3 thoughts on “The Toddler Who Refuses to Nap

  1. MA! Great little article! My new group posted the link on their Facebook page!

  2. Pingback: Momfession #13: Mommy nap time « the momfessional

  3. Pingback: Parenting Advice, a Guide or How to Manual? « Survivor: Pediatrics

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