Dr. Mona's Mom Blog

Toddler Nap Refusal

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and how you can get them back on track!

Most children drop their naps by 5 years, however many parents around 2-3 years feel their toddler is dropping a nap when they’re actually going through a nap refusal phase.

Ryaan went through a nap refusal right after he turned two, so my goal is to share the tips we used, but also tips that I share with my families as well.

In reality, the earliest I would agree that naps can be dropped is 3. There is a huge variation of when it’s normal to drop naps for good. Even then, I do believe we should try to encourage it before chalking it up to being over forever. 

Many toddlers will not TELL YOU they need a nap and their refusal makes you feel, its over. But, in reality they actually still need it for many reasons including:

  • It would mean less meltdowns
  • It would mean better night sleep
  • It would mean better overall demeanor 

Keep in mind, that a sign that your child (who is over three) is ready to drop their nap is that your toddler doesn’t act tired midday. By late afternoon, they are still happy and content—not fussy, cranky, or otherwise showing signs that they really needed that missed nap. 

So why do toddlers go through nap refusal?

This is common after 18 months and especially after 2 years because they have FOMO – fear of missing out. Everything is so exciting, it makes them not want to sleep. But in reality, they need that sleep and they don’t realize it. They also can have a nap refusal phase when they’re going through language explosions. This is what happened to Ryaan: he was so busy working on his new words and phrases sleep was not his priority.

Here are some tips to get you through their nap refusal:

  1. Make sure their schedule is okay. These toddlers should be going down for a nap between 12:30-2 and the nap shouldn’t be longer than 3 hours. If interfering with bedtime, we may need to adjust the nap timing in the day or duration. I do believe every child has different sleep quota (so some may sleep at night or only 1 hour in day and some three hours in day). If a long nap is affecting night sleep, you need to adjust. 
  2. Try to be physically active during the morning. Try signing them up for an activity, like toddler tumbling or soccer. The extra physical movement might encourage them to keep napping for a few more months (or years if you’re lucky).
  3. Be consistent with the nap offering. I consider a child dropping their nap if they’re over three and if you have been consistent for TWO WEEKS and there have been ZERO mid-day naps. Even one-two naps means I would keep offering it. 
  4. If they’re refusing a nap, practice saying Goodbye to toys and people before the nap. Toddlers get FOMO and by saying bye, tucking toys into bed, you are priming them for the next phase of the afternoon-sleep
  5. Explain or ask why they are taking a nap. For example: “Ryaan, it’s rest time. Why do we rest? So we can play and have fun.” “What do you want to play with after your nap?” “Toys!”
  6. Make sure their room is dark and cool just like in any stage of sleep. You can do a pre-bedtime routine like reading a book with them but be consistent how you would at night by saying 1 book with mommy and rest time. 
  7. Offer books in the crib and explain this is their quiet time. They can rest or relax. You can tell them, “This is your rest time, you can use it as you wish and let them decide if they will sleep or read.” The goal is to try to keep them in the crib/sleep space for at least an hour. You can approach crying/upset how you approach sleep training-graduated timed check ins as an example. 
  8. If over two and they are able to indicate a choice, focus on power of control. Toddlers LOVE being in control and when we’re making them do something (like nap) they can want to assert their power. So, say something like “where do you want me to tuck you in?” “Where do you want me to put (insert stuffed animal’s name)”. They can point to what or where they want something giving them perceived control like they are the ones choosing this nap.

The key is CONSISTENCY of offering the nap. Again, we often say “well they didn’t take it, so why offer it.” Im asking you to continue to offer it. Be very consistent with the time you offer it and the routine (saying bye, pre-nap routine if you want, or even having books in crib for quiet time.)

Listen to this podcast episode to learn more and avoid dropping a nap when your toddler probably could still use it.

P.S. – If your toddler is between 12 & 18 months, checkout this blog where I discuss transitioning to one nap.

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All information presented on this blog, my Instagram, and my podcast is for educational purposes and should not be taken as personal medical advice. These platforms are to educate and should not replace the medical judgment of a licensed healthcare provider who is evaluating a patient.

It is the responsibility of the guardian to seek appropriate medical attention when they are concerned about their child.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or hospitals I may be affiliated with.