Most days, you’d probably do almost anything for a nap, while your toddler’s willing to do anything to avoid one. Though she might not appreciate the joy of an afternoon nap, your toddler still needs one in order to stay awake and happy all the way until bedtime. As with so many issues where toddlers are concerned, consistency is key at nap time. Routines help her feel comforted and safe as she drifts off.
Your toddler’s nap needs should remain virtually the same for a year or so at a time. In her first months of life, she needed three or four naps during the day, then she likely transitioned to one morning and one afternoon nap up until around her second birthday. By the time your toddler is 2 years old, she probably needs just one afternoon nap, which will last from one to three hours. Wake her up a minimum of three hours before her bedtime, and use her general disposition during the day to determine when it’s time to drop her nap altogether. By the time she can stay awake and alert all day with an afternoon snooze, she’ll probably be past her third birthday.
If your toddler is highly stimulated — and face it, most are — she can’t flip a switch and transition to sleep mode. Just as you do at night, build some down time into her schedule after lunch. Turn off the TV and curl up to do puzzles, read books or color. Save high-energy activities such as dressing up, running around outdoors or toys that light up and make noise for later in the day. Devote a full 30 minutes to these quiet activities. Turning on the same soothing music you play in her room can also signal her brain that it’s almost time to sleep.
Setting the Stage
Some children are more sensitive to elements such as light and sound, but in general, making her room seem just like it does at night is the best way to ensure she can sleep. Invest in window shades instead of using curtains — thick material will block out the daylight better than fabric alone. Set up a fan on hot days and turn down the heat on cold days because it’s generally easier to sleep in a cool room than a hot one. Set up an MP3 player and speakers or a CD player with lullabies or nature sounds, or set up a white noise machine. Noise in her room will block out the sounds other family members are making while she’s trying to fall asleep.
Going to Sleep
Five minutes before her designated nap time, help your toddler use the potty or change her diaper, then head into her room. To make the transition to sleep even smoother, turn down the lights and let her climb into her bed while you sit beside it and read one more story. Sing a quick song and give her a hug and a kiss, then remind her what’s expected of her at nap time: she is to stay quietly in bed and rest. Leave the room and close the door. If she’s able to get out of bed and comes out of her room, lead her back into her bed without conversation. Repeat this action as many times as it takes before she gets the message.