Check out the PedsDocTalk YouTube Video: Toddler Nap Refusal and Quiet Time for more on how to encourage naps to continue, signs it’s time to drop a toddler’s nap, how to drop a nap, and how to transition to quiet time if desired.
Your little one is typically a great napper – but recently, they have been resisting their naps and sometimes skipping them. Now you’re asking, “Is this just a phase, or are they done napping?” Or “How do I keep trying to help them nap?” Many parents have the same questions about naps – you’re not alone. It’s helpful to know about nap refusal, including when to drop their nap, tips to encourage a nap, and how to implement quiet time.
Most children drop their final nap by five years. However, some kids still nap after that. Every child has different sleep needs.
Some parents think their toddler is ready to drop their nap around two to three years; however, at that age, they’re more likely going through a nap refusal phase.
Many toddlers won’t tell you they need a nap, and if you ask them, “Do you want a nap?” they will likely say no. Their refusal may make you think they’re over naps. However, this is NOT usually the case. More often, the reality is that they do need the nap but refuse it since there are many more exciting things to do besides napping.
Nap refusals are common between 18 months and 2 years because everything is so exciting – so they don’t want to sleep when they could be playing or reading. They can also have phases of nap refusal when going through language explosions or developmental progress.
During this time, it’s important to understand that your toddler needs sleep, even though they may not want to sleep. Continuing naps at this age can mean fewer meltdowns, improved nighttime sleep, and an overall better demeanor.
Tips to Approach Nap Refusal
Make sure their schedule is appropriate. Toddlers on a one-nap schedule should go down for a nap between 12:30 and 2:00 pm. A child older than three years may take an even later nap, which is appropriate as long as it’s not causing them to stay awake later than 9:00 pm. Typically, the nap shouldn’t be longer than three hours. There will be variations in nap timing and duration since every child has different sleep needs – you only need to consider adjusting their schedule if it interferes with their nighttime sleep.
Be consistent with offering a nap. A child is ready to drop their nap if they’re over three years of age and if you have consistently offered the nap for two weeks without ANY midday naps.
You have to continue to offer naps for two weeks. Even one or two naps during the two weeks are enough to keep offering it. As a child approaches three years, you may see them take only 25% to 50% of their naps. This means they still need a nap, so don’t stop offering it to them.
If they’re refusing a nap, practice saying goodbye to people or pets and tucking their toys into bed before the nap. Toddlers don’t want to miss out on any activities, so this helps them realize they won’t miss out on anything while resting.
Explain why they are taking a nap. For example, “It’s rest time. Why do we rest? So we can play and have fun during the day. What do you want to play with after your nap?” If they remember they have to rest to play, they’re more inclined to accept naptime. Starting this at a young age and with consistency is so helpful – you may get a child who will tell you, “I’m so tired. Time for a nap!”
Continue with their regular pre-naptime routine. Make sure their room is dark and cool. Offer books in the crib and explain this is their quiet time to relax. If they say they don’t want to sleep, tell them they can rest or read. The goal is to keep them in their crib or sleep space for at least an hour. This allows them time to fall asleep. If they cry or get upset, approach it the same way you approach sleep training. For example, continue with graduated timed check-ins if that has worked well for you and your child before.
If your child is over two years of age and can indicate a choice, focus on giving them the power of control. Toddlers desire autonomy, and offering them a choice gives them a sense of control. When making them do something, such a taking a nap, they often want to assert their power. You can say, “Where do you want me to tuck you in? Or, “Where do you want me to put your lovey?” They can point to what or where they want something, which helps them feel in control.
Remember – be consistent and continue to offer the nap for two weeks. Do not give up! If they don’t have a single nap in two weeks, then it’s time to think about dropping it. It also may be time to drop it if your child has been taking a nap but has also been struggling to fall asleep at bedtime. In this scenario, you can try to move the nap earlier or shorten the length. Although every child has different sleep needs, this is typically seen around three years or later.
Dropping a nap does not mean you have to lose all of your time to get things done or rest. Quiet time is a good alternative for a child. It gives parents some much-needed time and this independent time is important for children.
Like us parents, giving children time alone can help reset their day and emotions – it’s a win for everyone!
Quiet time is an evolution of independent play and is best implemented after three years. This is when their attention span is more prolonged. Transitioning to quiet time can be intimidating, but the transition can be successful with consistency! It is an adjustment that can sometimes take a few weeks for your child to accept the new routine.
Remember, if quiet time is something you want to happen, be consistent and hold your boundaries. Repeat the boundary to your child. “It’s quiet time. It’s time for you and Daddy to both have time alone to rest.”
Think about what space you want to use for quiet time. Make sure it’s a safe space, and let your child choose what activities are available during quiet time. If you can, find an activity special to quiet time to make it stimulating and exciting for the child.
Quiet time should be anywhere from one to two hours. You may need to start with a short quiet time of 15 minutes and gradually increase the time. Prepare your child for quiet time by explaining how it will work. Use a wind-down routine, as you would for nap time.
Young children have difficulty understanding the concept of time. Consider using a visual timer or light if your child is older than two years and understands the concept. Explain how the timer works or use light as a visual cue for when quiet time is over. For example, explain to them, “The sound machine light is red during quiet time and turns green when quiet time is over. When the light turns green, you can come to get me.”
If your child comes out of quiet time before it ends, gently bring them back to the room. This is part of consistency. If they have a quiet time meltdown, hold the boundary and be compassionate as they learn. With consistency, they’ll start to understand and follow their new routine. It also may be necessary to adjust their routine and move up bedtime to avoid them being overtired in the evening.