The Toddler Who Refuses to Nap

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 naptime.

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?

**Submit your parenting or health related question to mommamd4two(at)aol(dot)com. I feature a question or topic every week. If you don’t have a question, but have a topic you’d like to see me cover, please e-mail me or leave a comment. **

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21 Responses to The Toddler Who Refuses to Nap
  1. Mommy's Paradise
    July 1, 2011 | 6:48 am

    You are so right with this. I think finding out how many hours of sleep in a 24 period is the trick.
    I found out my son (3yo in August) is the happiest with getting up at 7am or earlier, nap between 1 and 3pm, bedtime 9pm. He needs about 12hr of sleep, otherwise he's getting cranky. But if he gets up later than 7am, he doesn't nap, as much as I try. He gets cranky around 6pm and might fall asleep earlier, or maybe not. If I give him his rhythm, our world is perfect.

  2. Liz
    July 1, 2011 | 7:06 am

    Maddie isn't napping at summer camp, which means I don't think she'll nap at her new preschool this fall. She is so different from Kate, though, and she does OK on days without a nap.

  3. Erica
    July 1, 2011 | 8:59 am

    Very helpful – thanks. I have a feeling that we're going to be dropping naps at 2 – we're on the low end of the # of hours spectrum.

  4. JDaniel4's Mom
    July 1, 2011 | 1:05 pm

    I think we are losing nap and I will miss it.

  5. By Word of Mouth Musings
    July 1, 2011 | 2:03 pm

    Don't you wish someone would force you to lie down and take a nap.
    Do these kids not know how good they have it – seriously 😉

  6. The Zany Housewife
    July 1, 2011 | 4:06 pm

    This post couldn't have come at a better time. lol. My daughter, who just turned 2 1/2, is starting to head in the no nap direction. We put her down at night and she finds any excuse to get up- as if she is just not tired enough. She missed a nap the other day and slept through the night with no problem. So yeah…so long naptime.

    I really love the idea of having "quiet time" too. I think I'll start implementing that and see what happens.

    Great post!

  7. Cheryl D.
    July 1, 2011 | 6:57 pm

    Oh, I when my daughter was supposed to nap. Before she even turned 2, she was ending her naps. I did the enforced quiet time. She hardly ever slept. The bad thing was when she would fall asleep after 4 while playing. Even if she slept for 5 friggin' minutes, she wouldn't fall asleep at night until 10! Ugh!

  8. Galit Breen
    July 3, 2011 | 9:33 pm

    This is such good info, Melissa! I'm a firm believer {IE: lover} of naps and my kids have fallen into line. 1-3, we all nap or rest. Amen. :)

  9. Tasha
    November 8, 2011 | 8:15 am

    What a great article! So much useful information. My daughter is 15 months and I’m struggling with the idea of 2 naps or 1. I work at home, so her nap times are my times to work. Her afternoon nap keeps getting shorter and shorter, and lately it seems she’s more tired if I enforce it. Her bedtime is usually 8 but lately it’s been getting later and later. I think I’m going to have to do away with the afternoon nap and slowly move the morning nap closer to 12:00. Well, that’s my plan anyways. Thanks again for the info!

  10. Marcia Parent
    December 12, 2011 | 11:20 am

    our twin grandkids (boy/girl) just turned 2. They had to transition to toddler beds instead of cribs, and now naptime is horrible. They need it, they sleep well at night, but still need it. But, they are developmentally unready for the freedom of the new beds. THey tear around, getting into trouble in their room, and think it’s play time. If they were in separate rooms they’d still be doing it, knocking on the walls to each other or some other twin codespeak. Any ideas? we are desperate.

  11. i'm going nuts
    June 21, 2012 | 1:42 pm

    I am having the most difficult time putting my 2 1/2 yr old down for a nap, and then I feel horrible because i’m paying more attention to her and not my 3yr 1/2 yr old(who will go down for a nap but doesn’t because of all the screaming). I, within the past month, have taken my girls out of day care and they were still taking 2- 2 1/2 hour naps there easily. i feel like i’ve tried everything and i think i’m losing it!!! please, please help me.

  12. tried everything, what's left??
    June 22, 2012 | 11:28 am

    I have a 22 month old son and am now 4 months pregnant. My son switched to 1 nap a day at 8 months and around 15mo very suddenly completely refused to nap. His crib only has a fitted sheet (no toys or bumper, etc), room is dark, air cleaner and sound of waves provide background noise, temperature is 71, even given him the appropriate valerian dose. He can be in his crib for HOURS talking, jumping, playing, singing, sucking his finger, rubbing his eyes, and he’s constantly moving, but will not sleep for the life of him. At night he get about 10 hours of sleep. On the rare occasion he falls asleep, he’ll nap 2 – 3 hours minimum. What else can I do, he doesn’t treat that time as down-time b/c he’s really active just in his crib???

  13. chellynn
    July 16, 2012 | 2:14 pm

    My daughter just turned 2 last month. Both bed time and nap times are a chore! However, my son who will be 4 in a few Weeks LOVES naps, and even asks me when he can take a nap. I guess I couldnt get lucky with both. Lol

  14. My Two Hats
    January 13, 2013 | 2:18 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. Have been using the strategies with good success over the past few weeks. Only question is this: How did you get your little ones to cooperate with “quiet time”? My little guy has now figured out how to turn on the light, open the door, etc.

    • Melissa
      January 14, 2013 | 11:47 am

      Will he respond to a timer? Mine did. I would initially set it for a fairly short amount of time, like 15 minutes and tell her I would recheck her at that time. I did give a little freedom…like it’s okay if you have the light on and/or door open if you stay in your room playing/reading quietly.

      Hope that helps!! Good luck :-)

  15. Emily
    January 24, 2013 | 12:57 pm

    My 3 year old just abruptly started refusing his 2-3 hour nap and not only does he put up a fight, now he’s waking up much earlier in the mornings, around 5 am! He has always been an amazing sleeper, so we’re out of our element. He’s exhausted during the day and quiet time isn’t helping much. I have a 1.5 year old and another on the way, I cannot deal with a cranky little guy much longer!! Any suggestions??

    • William
      March 11, 2013 | 11:08 am

      Once my 2 year old stopped napping I sent him to daycare because there is no way I could take care of a 4 month old with him not napping and then being cranky. I also found getting him to nap during the winter was tough because he wasn’t nearly as active. Sending you kid to preschool or daycare isn’t admitting defeat it is just a way for your older one to get the activity and attention they need and then you can focus on your younger one.

  16. Lorna
    April 22, 2013 | 6:07 am

    Thanks for this advice re. napping. My two year old has me in tears most days. I’m exhausted. She’s never been a good sleeper – until a month ago we were up on average seven or eight times a night (often more) and she wouldn’t nap at all. She’s settled better, but we’re still up about four times a night. We’ve tried everything. she has a good bedtime routine, is always in bed by 7.30pm and puts herself to sleep. She sleeps well until around midnight, then she’s up at least once an hour after, getting up for the day at 5am. She won’t nap at home, only at nursery, and when she’s at nursery I’m at work. We’ve no-one to help and no-one is taking this seriously. Sorry for going on a bit, but I’m so tired and so fed up. Just needed to vent. Everyone (inc. the health visitor) just keeps saying she’ll grow out of it…

  17. Corey
    July 2, 2013 | 3:19 pm

    My 2 1/2 year old just started refusing to nap. She is getting about 11 hours night time sleep, so I’d be ok to drop her nap, BUT by dinner time she is falling asleep in the chair. Clearly, she still needs a nap!? Any suggestions???

  18. Lisa
    December 14, 2013 | 3:38 am

    I have a going to be 3 year old next month who has recently stopped taking naps even though she is tired, some days. Our main problem is that she wakes up in the middle of the night. She screams for me or my husband (who recently disrupted out sleep routine). She doesn’t cry, but she screams, to the point of keeping herself and me up for hours. Anyone know what I can do? I try ignoring her, but she just keeps it up. I think maybe “quiet time” will cause screaming fits too…I’m so confused!