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Toddlers fighting their nap is one of the challenges that emerge as they grow in self agency. This is the ability they have to express their will with an ever growing exuberance. Unfortunately for us mamas, they tend to express their desire to stay awake rather strongly at times. It is as this happens, particularly around two years old, that you may wonder if your child has outgrown naps. This is not the case because naps continue to be a great source of emotional, mental and physical growth to our kiddos for their first 4-5 years.
My Toddler Nap Fighting Story
I remember the day I decided to write this article. This is what I had written:
‘I just came out of Aviya’s room for the second time in the last hour. It’s afternoon nap time and today, she’s fighting it. She has told me she has slept enough, but I’ve heard her chattering and singing for the last hour so I’m certain not a wink of sleep has been had. Also, the tears she is shedding give me a hint that she is actually tired, even though she insists that she is not.
I have found that my children respond to my saying no much more negatively when they are tired. It might be my asking them to wait for a snack for five more minutes or telling them we’re not going out to the park at that moment. Be it large or small, my kids have a meltdown if they are tired and I don’t give them the answer they want. Don’t get me wrong, I know toddler and preschool meltdowns happen for any reason and no reason. It’s bewildering, right?! But, I can definitely say that it is much more likely to occur when my kids are tired.
And today was no different with Aviya. When I explained to her that she had not slept yet but that she needed to stay in her room until she had, she burst into tears and wailed. You would have thought I’d just pulled the head off her beloved unicorn stuffed animal right in front of her big blue eyes. So, it was time to stand my ground, stake my flag, and determine to win the nap time war.
And I did.
She’s quietly snoozing just a few minutes later as I write this.’
After that, I decided to come up with some tips for other mamas facing the same heroic battle! Here are five tips to making sure your kiddo gets those naps in!
It’s All About Timing
At each age, babies and children have different sleep needs. This ranges from newborns sleeping about 17 hours out of 24 to five year olds sleeping about 12.5-13.5 hours. It’s important to keep all this in mind as you work to get your child sleeping on a schedule that gets them all the zzz’s they need.
Babies and children sleep and then build up their drive to sleep during the hours they are awake. The younger the child, the quicker their drive to sleep is built. This is why a newborn can only be awake about an hour before needing to sleep again. Then they move towards being able to stay awake for up to two hours over their first few months.
For your toddler, their overall sleep need will be about 14 hours of sleep until they are about four. So, that means an ideal sleep schedule for your toddler would be 11-12 hours of sleep a night plus a 2-3 hour nap during the afternoon. This nap needs to happen about 5 hours after they wake up in the morning and end about 4 hours before their bedtime should begin. I know this is a lot of sleep! And so many kiddos are getting much less than this. This is because it takes a lot of work to coordinate the family schedule so that your young child can get all these hours of sleep.
This can be particularly difficult if an early bedtime isn’t a great option for your family. However, it is often the best solution to getting your child their necessary sleep. Each of my kids had a 6pm bedtime until the age of two, except for my fourth. Around age one, she moved to a 7pm bedtime out of convenience since all the other kids were heading to bed at that time. She, along with her 4 1/2 year old brother, still have a 7pm bedtime. My older girls, 6 and 8, have an 8pm bedtime but head to their room for quiet coloring and play at 7pm…because my husband and I enjoy a few hours of quiet in the evening and we really prioritize our kids getting a lot of sleep!
With all of that said, every family is different. Now that you know the hours of sleep your toddler (up to at least four years old) needs, you can figure out how to offer as much of those hours of sleep to your child as possible.
We Don’t Miss Naps Often
One way we make sure we get all those sleep hours in, is with naps. So, I make it a priority to plan around naps. As I write this, I only have one more regularly napping child. My 2 1/2 year old NEEDS daily naps. We miss them occasionally for various special occasions, but overall, we get those naps! But this works because if you have well rested children, missing the occasional nap will not have an effect. It will just mean heading to bed a half hour early. I usually bump nap time up by a half hour the next day, also.
While you cannot make up for sleep deficit (sleep lost is lost forever, according to pediatrician and sleep researcher Dr. Marc Weissbluth), you can keep in mind the lost sleep and plan to avoid the grumpiness that may follow. Also, a tired child has a much harder time falling and staying asleep. So, being preemptive with getting some extra sleep after missed sleep really benefits everyone!
As I mentioned, each family and each child is different. All children have a biological need for sleep that is quite common across the board because of circadian rhythms, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have variances within this. While my 2 1/2 year old is napping regularly like a champ, it was around 3 that my little boy stopped napping well. In fact, if he napped during the day, he usually took an hour to fall asleep and then by the time he got a two hour nap, he was getting up way too close to bedtime. This meant he was awake in his room until 9-10pm. That was much less than ideal and was happening the majority of the time.
It wasn’t so much that my son was fighting his nap, but rather that he stopped needing it quite as much. So, I started getting him out of his room if he didn’t fall asleep within 30 minutes. On those days, he went to bed about 30 minutes early. (Varying nap and bed times by more than 30 minutes on a regular basis is challenging for children). Then, around age four, he started asking to take naps more regularly. He would comment that he was tired and ask to sleep. Ok, buddy! Let’s go!
So, our current situation is that I nap him every few days, or any day he seems tired (ie. grumpy, not listening well, feisty with sisters, crying easily or for small reasons, etc.). I don’t recommend this approach too quickly, however, as consistency is truly best when it comes to sleep (and almost anything, really!) with kids. But, in our case, it seems to be the best option for our little man.
We Use A Sound Machine With A Light Timer
I have found the BEST solution for helping kiddos stay in their bed until the correct time. It is also a sound machine! I have used it with my third and fourth children and it has worked like a dream! This is the Hatch Baby Rest.
There are two reasons I really love using this sound/timer machine.
I’m not the bad guy!
When my younger kids have wanted to come out of their nap after only a few minutes, it easy to point to their machine and comment that it’s not the right color for being awake yet! It’s very simple. In our house, orange means sleep and blue means it’s time to come out. My little loves tended to get less cross with me about it still being nap time because it was their machine telling them it was time to sleep, not me!
I don’t have to keep my eye on the clock!
With the Hatch Baby Rest, I have set all the times on my phone for nap times and bedtimes. So, the magic machine turns on a few minutes before our earliest possible nap and bed times. It is orange until the time I have set it turn blue. I get to just set it and forget it! One less thing to remember in my day, yes, please!
I love the Hatch Baby Rest so much I have devoted an entire post to tell you about all the programmable and customizable features that you can control FROM YOUR PHONE. Seriously, mama. It’s amazing. I love it. You will too. Definitely check it out!
So many struggles with toddlers can be solved by offering them choices! You can do this throughout the day, but also at sleep times! Each day, nap and bedtime should happen at roughly the same time. But, these times really signify when we will move our child towards their bedroom and bed. These times do not offer a guarantee that your child will actually sleep.
With toddlers, so often the fight over naps is about them wanting to continue to play rather than sleep. Sleep obviously seems boring when the alternative is playing or being with you. You can take the time to explain to your toddler that their body needs sleep to grow, just like they need food. Reasoning with a toddler may be the definition of crazy, but it still worth a shot!
Overall, the idea here is not to fight with your toddler about their need for sleep. You want to avoid telling the child they have to go to sleep and instead, offer them the opportunity to calmly lay in their bed. You can do this by allow them to look through a book or play with a toy car. They could fill a small bin with their fav toys, even. I usually let my kiddo fill the bin himself before nap starts so he get excited about taking it to bed with him. Another great idea would be to have a small bin that contains toys only allowed at nap time. This could create a situation that gives your child something to look forward to and get excited about associated with nap time.
If you have a kiddo who is fighting naps pretty strongly, another way to offer choices that may offer some reasonable control is regarding other things in the room.
- This blanket or this blanket?
- Door shut or cracked? (If possible)
- Change into pajamas or wear current clothes?
- Sing this song or this song together when you lay down?
The take away here is that we can’t force our children to sleep. But, we can offer them a few choices that help them quietly and calmly stay in bed. This helps them relax and still feel like they have some control over their choices.
You got this!
Mama, your child getting all the sleep he or she needs is so important! It makes such a difference for them mentally, socially and physically. Also, day time nap is of primary importance and helps our little ones get the rest they need as well as be ready for all that night time sleep they need! It’s all connected…daytime naps are the foundation for great night time sleep. And, you guessed it. Night time sleep is the foundation for day time sleep.
I hope your nap time struggles are about to get a whole lot better, mama! Send me an e mail or comment below if you have a struggle I can help you with or a tip I didn’t mention that has worked for you!
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