Toddler Napping Transitions

For many, it can feel like the entire first year of your children's lives are spent trying to get them to nap. And then, just as signs of a routine begin to appear, your kids will start daycare, or drop a nap - or both! - setting that hard-fought schedule into a tailspin. Here's how to manage your toddler's napping transitions.

Toddler Napping Transitions

Illustration by Deanna Halsall

While they no longer require the kind of sleep they did as infants, a consistent napping routine is still essential for toddlers, says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Nap Solution (McGraw-Hill). “The actual number of hours that your child sleeps is an incredibly important factor for his health and well-being,”says Pantley. “Even a one-hour shortage in appropriate sleep time can compromise a child’s mood, health and behaviour, which increases fussiness, tantrums and whining, and can lead to reduced learning capacity.”

According to Pantley, most one-year-olds take one or two daily naps for a total of two to three hours combined. They can stay happily awake for three to four hours before needing a nap or bedtime. By age two, most children have shifted to one daily nap of one to three hours, and can stay up for five or six hours before needing a rest.

Away from home

Toronto mom Sarah Hartley had her son Elliot on a consistent twice-a-day nap schedule until he turned one and started daycare. “For the first two weeks at daycare, he wouldn’t nap at all,” recalls Hartley. It took another two months before he would nap in a crib, she adds, opting instead to fall asleep in an infant chair after he drank his post-lunch bottle.

When it comes to transitioning your child into a new setting, whether it’s at daycare or a grandparent’s house, the most important thing is consistency, says Dr. Shelly K. Weiss, a pediatric neurologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and author of Better Sleep for Your Baby & Child: A Parent’s Step-by-Step Guide to Healthy Sleep Habits (Robert Rose).

“Keep your baby’s routines as similar as possible,” says Dr. Weiss. “For example, follow the same routine before a nap, keep the nap time the same and set your child down in a quiet and darkened room.” In addition, she says a transition object, like a familiar blanket or stuffed animal, can be very helpful at this age.

From two to one

That said, transitions aren’t always negative experiences. Mary Harrison, a mom of two from Shawnigan Lake, B.C., was pleasantly surprised when her youngest daughter, Maggie, started daycare at 11 months of age. “We co-slept with [Maggie] since birth, so I was concerned about her napping alone,” says Harrison. “But her daycare provider told me there were no problems with her sleeping in the playpen. And this, in turn, helped us transition her out of our bed and into her own crib.”

Even if your toddler isn’t faced with a daycare transition, he or she will inevitably drop a nap. But knowing when your child is physically ready to drop that nap can be confusing.

“You’ll know when it really is time to switch to one nap a day when you put your child down for a nap and he plays or fusses for 30 minutes or more before falling asleep, and then takes only a short nap or never falls asleep at all,” says Pantley.

Still, the change from two naps to one nap is rarely a one-day occurrence. Pantley cautions there can be a transition period of up to several months when your child clearly needs two naps on some days, but one nap on others.

Sleep setting

Finally, if you find yourself in that unfortunate situation where napping is sadly elusive, there’s still hope, says Dr. Weiss. “It is never too late to work on encouraging positive, rather than negative, sleep habits.”

Pantley maintains that almost any child can be nudged into a new routine, including a daily nap. “To begin with, start with a rest time that includes book-reading, storytelling or soft music in a quiet, darkened room,” she says. “Allow your child to relax and, if a nap is needed, it’s likely he’ll nod off in this relaxing environment.”

At Harrison’s house, quiet time is a must, even if it doesn’t look like an actual nap is going to happen. “We all appreciate a rest in the afternoon. It’s their time to recharge and calm down before carrying on with their day.”

CF’s managing editor Christina Campbell lives in silent fear of the day her 14-month-old daughter, Ava, gives up napping.

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