How to Transition Your Toddler Out of Naps
The transition away from a daily nap can be jarring for both parents and toddlers alike. Follow Mighty Mommy' 7 tips to help you adjust to this new nap-free schedule.
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Just when you think your toddler has gotten into a great schedule of waking-up at a decent hour, eating well, learning to play nicely with others, and offering you some daily respite during her nap time, something happens to upset this well-oiled routine: the toddler decides she no longer needs to nap!
When regular nap time becomes a little less regular, it can lead to energy slumps, meltdowns, and lots of crankiness (and your child won't be happy either).
Don’t panic! Mighty Mommy is on your side.
I've been through this challenging transition 8 times and have 7 tips to help everyone in your household through this shift. Follow these tips and in the blink of an eye you and your child will soon be enjoying a brand new schedule.
Tip #1: Watch for Sleepy Cues
I was a stay-at-home mom when my kids were younger. That's why transitioning away from naps was a different process for me than for some of my working friends whose children were in daycare. In a daycare or preschool setting, the day is usually pretty structured. Kids are all required to have some type of down-time because the entire group is resting or napping.
See also: How Routines Will Simplify Your Life
Because my at-home schedule allowed for flexibility, when I sensed my child no longer needed a daily nap I looked for sleepy signs and arranged naps on a daily basis for the first couple of months that she no longer needed a consistent nap. This might mean an actual nap, during her regular naptime, or just 20-30 minutes of sitting and reading quietly so she could unwind and gear up for the afternoon ahead. I began to give my child the option of laying down and resting or sitting with Mommy or by herself with “quiet toys” such as books or a stuffed animal. Taking cues from the child and adjusting the rest schedule according to her needs (rather than doggedly sticking to a 1pm naptime) made the transition much easier.
Tip #2: Bump up Bedtime
During periods when one of my 8 kids was growing out of naps and becoming more cranky or tired than usual at the end of the day, I would move up his or her bedtime by at least 30 minutes to help compensate for the lack of rest during the day.
To accomplish this I would also move dinner up by the same amount of time so that it would balance out the bedtime routine. Because young kids still can’t tell time, when they saw me cooking dinner they equated dinner with the regular routine of eating, bath, story, and then off to bed. This “fake out” time change would often be my sanity saver on those difficult days when a nap truly was necessary but didn’t happen.
Tip #3: Make Quiet Time a Positive Experience
When your child decides that nap time is a thing of the past, you need to get creative and entice him with the idea that although he doesn’t need to actually sleep during the day, he still needs quiet time on a daily basis—and it can actually be fun! Most kids, including my own, will resist the notion that sitting quietly for a regular period of the day is good for them. So take a positive and enthusiastic approach to this new portion of the day. Some ideas are:
Come up with a name for this quiet time. Just as it is called “nap time” when you prepare your child for his nap, now you need to call it something else that will cue him for what is about to happen. In my household, we called it “chill out time." I used a stuffed polar bear which we named Mr. Chill as part of the draw. Mr. Chill only came out during this portion of the day to keep my kids company. When they were done with their quiet time, Mr. Chill went away until the following day.
Designate a space for quiet time. I always found that the best place for quiet time was in my child’s room, because it was removed from the other activity in the house and they were already familiar with pre-nap preparations which eased them into quiet play time or reading. This also allowed them to fall asleep on their own if they chose to because their bed was readily available.
If you find that the child's bedroom is too stimulating, choose another location that you will consistently use for quiet time each day. By doing so, you’ll build a routine for this period of the day. (Of course, you already know the crucial role routines play in parenting!). So when your child sees the books and puzzles set out in a comfy spot in the family room every day after lunch, this signals down time, not running around with a baseball bat in the backyard.
Arm yourself with calm activities. Most kids will find it difficult to lay down and be quiet if they are surrounded by action toys such as cars, talking dolls, and electronic games. So come up with some low-key activities such as paper dolls, puzzles, books, and even some new friends like our polar bear. Make sure that these items are the only ones available during quiet time. If your child knows there are certain toys that he will be enjoying only during this time, it is more incentive for him to remain in his quiet spot for the duration of the rest period. To make sure that your child doesn’t get bored, try to rotate toys on a semi-regular basis, but designate them only for quiet time.