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Why is my toddler suddenly refusing their nap?

The toddler nap regression is real! And it is TOUGH!

I know because I have a toddler. And guess what?...

Even though he is a wonderful sleeper and has been for almost 2 years now, he still has moments where things are just off. This goes for my clients, too! No child, amazing sleeper or not, is exempt from the toddler nap regression!

So, what is this nap regression?

Typically, around 2 years old, some older and some younger, your toddler may flat out refuse their nap. I’ve seen toddlers who normally nap for 3 hours every single day start boycotting their nap completely for weeks!

Yes, I said weeks!

You’ll know if your child is experiencing this because it will all of sudden take them a very long time to fall asleep at naptime or they just won’t fall asleep at all. Most of the time, they lay there singing and chatting away. Sometimes they may be calling out requests.

“Mama, more water!”

“Daddy, one more kiss!”

“Grandpa, rub my back!”

Parents, this is a tough thing to get through! You are going to feel so confused and so frustrated. You also may be petrified at the thought of naptime ending forever! But, hang in there and read on. We’ll get through this together!

Why do they go through this regression?

It can be a total brain teaser when your toddler who has been a wonderful sleeper decides they just aren’t going to nap! There are a few things that are happening which play into this regression. Here are the top 3 reasons I see this happen:

Testing boundaries

To put it simply, toddlers are doing exactly what they were born to do: explore their world through testing boundaries. They are like little car burglars... going through the neighborhood jiggling car handles to see which door opens.

That’s what they’re doing to their parents! They jiggle us a bit to see how far they can push us. Will we stand by what we say? Does one cookie really only mean one cookie?

They want to see where the line is drawn between parent and child. Therefore, we start to hear so many requests around sleep times. Your child who was completely fine in their crib with just a pillow is now asking for 6 stuffed animals, 2 drinks and a fresh pair of socks just to see if they can get you to continue coming back into their room.

When the parent/child line is blurred, the first part of the day to see a push back is naptime. The second part is bedtime.

Crib to big kid bed too soon

Another culprit of the toddler regression is moving them from their cribs to a big kid bed too soon. I do not recommend making this transition earlier than 3 years of age. They are just not cognitively ready to handle the responsibility that comes along with a big kid bed. So, they regress!

Developmentally, a lot is happening

Your child is talking and physically moving around more than ever! They may have just learned how to ride a bike or hit the T-Ball. These accomplishments are so exciting for them! They can’t stop thinking about it! And so, their sleep is affected.

Naps are just getting in the way of their practice time; therefore, they boycott the nap!

What do I do when my child refuses to nap?

Now that we know why, we obviously need to know what we can do to help this! Naptime is critical to getting through the day, for both parents and child. You are going to want to hold onto it for as long as possible!

Keep offering nap! Every. Single. Day

If your child is under 2.5 years old, DO NOT GIVE IN AND THROW OUT THE NAP!

This is important! If you are thinking that your child who napped last week for 3 hours every day but is struggling to nap this week is ready to drop their nap, I urge you to wait! Give them time to work through this regression. Even if your toddler is a bit older, give it some time of offering the nap before you decide that your run with naps is over.

Put them down for the nap at their normal nap time each day, making sure that they get at least 5-6 hours of awake time from their morning wake.

Get outside!

Getting outside for at least 40 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes in the afternoon helps to set your child’s body clock. This is important because once we get this set correctly, their sleep and awake hormones will flow at the optimal times each day.

If you can’t get outside in the afternoon, try your best to get out in the morning! Also, avoid going outside between lunch and nap. The sunlight will trigger their brain to “wake up” and we don’t want them experiencing a second wind right before nap.

Crying in the crib

If your child is crying a lot in their crib instead of napping, go in every few minutes to remind them that it’s naptime and time to lay down and rest. Try to keep them in there for at least an hour but ideally for the duration of their normal nap.

Playing in the crib

If your child is happily sitting in the crib, don’t interfere. Just let them be and have their break. Even though they are not sleeping, the alone time is still restorative for them. It will also keep the placeholder for their nap.

Hello, darkness my old friend!

If you’ve been here for a while, you know how serious I am about darkness! It is very hard to expect anyone to nap in brightly lit rooms. This is a biological setting that we can’t turn off. Our brains are wired to wake up in the light and go to sleep in the dark. So, black that room out and make sure it’s difficult to see in front of you in the middle of the day!

Keep in mind that as they get older, their sensitivity to light increases. Even though your child has slept in bright rooms in the past, their bodies are changing, and this is one of the changes that could come along with that.

Focus on relaxing activities leading up to naps

Gone are the days where your child forgets what happened 5 minutes ago. They remember everything! If you break out a new fire truck right before nap, your child is not going to want to sleep.

Turn off the TV and the music (unless it’s relaxing music) and read some books! Or sit on the floor with them and calmly play. This will help them feel their tiredness building up and recognize the sensation.

Give 5 and 2 minute warnings

Transitions are hard for toddlers. As adults, we know what’s coming next because we’re planning it in our heads. We can’t expect our toddlers to be open to the idea of abruptly taking them from a fun activity and rushing off upstairs to nap with no warning.

By giving them the countdown with warnings, they know that it’s coming. They’ll be more accepting of this change because they’ll be aware of it! To do this, say “[Name] can you please look at me. 5 more minutes then it’s time to clean up”. Make sure you have their attention before giving the warning. And stick to it! Abiding by that 5-minute warning goes back to the boundary setting that toddlers need and thrive on!

Toddlers are ever-evolving and brilliant little humans! Their sleep is going to change. And it will challenge you. If your child isn’t falling asleep on their own at this point, it’s not too late to start teaching them! Book your FREE call with me today so that we can talk about how to help your toddler learn the amazing skill of sleep that they will benefit from for years to come!

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