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When Toddlers Won't Nap

The Day My Toddler Wouldn't Nap Anymore

It's one o'clock in the afternoon — do you know where your toddler is? All his friends are fast asleep, napping soundly after lunch. But your little one is climbing the walls, wanting to play, asking for snacks, and begging to go to the park, perhaps all at once. Sound familiar? If so, what should you do? Should you force the issue, or give in? How long should you try for a good nap routine before you throw in the towel?

Jennifer raises this very question in one of our communities. Her 3-year-old simply will not go down without a fight. My son, also 3, is very much of the little-to-no napping camp. And what I realized one afternoon after I once again resorted to bribery — and, once again, failed! — is that it was a losing battle, that for the sake of everyone's sanity I should simply stop asking Olin to nap on my schedule. 

You see, Olin has resisted sleep since the day he was born. Sure, every newborn sleeps in fits and starts, but my son has always fought sleep, even before he had ideas about what else he might be doing. And when he does finally succumb, you can trust it won't be for long. Even now, he goes to sleep in his own cozy bed, but he invariably wakes up at the crack of dawn, wanting company. 


My epiphany that it was OK that he isn't a napper happened as follows. We were lying in his big futon on the floor one afternoon, and I was trying to think of a bribe that might work. Would he like to watch Caillou after his nap? Get pizza for dinner? Take his balance bike up to the enclosed area at the nearby schoolyard? But even though he loves all those things, he knew he couldn't say yes to a nap. Instead, he said to me, "Mama, I'm really not tired. Could I have some quiet time reading with you instead?" It was then that it dawned on me he was not trying to wrangle out of something he honestly needed to do. He just wasn't tired, and he didn't need a nap. Period. 

In fact, on rare occasions when he does need to nap, he will let me know, and while the timing isn't always convenient, this demonstrates that he isn't just being contrary. Toddlers, and kids of all ages, need different amounts of sleep per day — and at different times of their lives.

His sincere request disarmed me and helped me realize that rest might be what we both needed more than anything. More, even, than sleep. 

And so we read his favorite firefighter books, talked about what we wanted to do this weekend, and caught up in a way that wouldn't have been possible if I'd been spending all my energy getting him to sleep. It's true — I didn't get the dishes done or read a book of my own, but I had the much more delightful experience of hanging out with my son, quietly.

Image Source: Shutterstock
PatriceCleaves PatriceCleaves 5 years
Good for you! When our son was 3 he started showing signs that he didn't need a daily nap and instead I'd set the timer for 60 minutes of "independent quiet time" where he'd do puzzles, read, play with his legos or play dough and then he'd get to watch a show of "his" choice. Ultimately I ended up getting 60 minutes or so of my own quiet time and this hugely helped me get my energy back! In the beginning it did take some effort, but eventually he got it and now we have a nice system! Now he's almost 5 and some days we hang together and ride our bikes, while other days he does his independent time or naps.
MeganGosiak MeganGosiak 5 years
As long as the child gets quiet time, a nap isn't needed. Its about calming your body for a bit and taking it easy. My son still needs them, but even after he gives them up, we'll still ask bim for quiet time. Different strokes. Kudos to this mom for listening to an honest request. Many don't listen at all.
JenelleMartin JenelleMartin 5 years
I was devastated the day I realized my daughter was no longer going to take a nap. She had always been such a good napper 2-3 hours. All of sudden she didnt need them. She was 2 1/2 and I remember thinking, this cant be right. Other kids nap clear till they are 3 or 4 or 5. This wasn't fair! I, like the mom in the article quickly realized that there was no forcing it and bribery wouldnt help. I soon learned to accept it and now we just have quiet time for her and mommy. I accepted that she needs to have a little control over her body and she knows when she is tired. She has boundless energy, wakes at 8 and goes to sleep at 9. That whole time we do our best to wear her out but only wear ourselves out :)
RaquelSandoval54817 RaquelSandoval54817 5 years
My 4 yr old stopped takin naps as well.. but i find if i close all curtains ans make it dark and have soft sound it helps him unwind :).
CoMMember13631179371101 CoMMember13631179371101 5 years
My daughter started taking naps at 18 months, just quit them cold turkey. I was so sad at first, but then we instituted quiet time, and she likes that much better. She'll be 3 in August, and when she needs a nap, she'll usually take it, if not, quiet time will suffice.
VickiStacey VickiStacey 5 years
My daughter has basically stopped napping during the day, at home at least, but does at nursery. I don't force her - I sometimes try for about 15 minutes if she looks tired, but other than that have given up on the idea.
JenKaplan JenKaplan 5 years
great article. my daughter, aged 3, also stopped napping. she naps at pre-school but when she is home with me, she doesn't. I don't think she needs a ton of sleep either so I might need a nap, but clearly, she doesn't!
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