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Why it happens
Every parent knows this scenario: Your toddler gives all the signals of being exhausted and needing sleep — she yawns and rubs her eyes, flops on the floor, and bursts into tears of frustration when her block tower collapses — but she still won't go down for a nap.
The explanation is simple, though the solution may not be: Toddlers fight the urge to rest simply because they are so interested in what's going on around them. Your curious toddler has so much to see and do and she's afraid that if she naps, she'll miss out on something.
Also, just like other toddlers, your child is beginning to understand that she's separate from you and is her own person, so she asserts her independence whenever she can. Refusing to take a nap is one way she wrests control from you.
What to do
- Scale back your expectations. As a baby, your child probably napped two or three times a day, but now that he's a toddler, he'll move gradually to one nap a day.
By 18 months, he probably won't be sleeping in the morning. When the morning nap disappears, try moving the afternoon nap earlier, to just after lunch. Waiting till later may push bedtime to late at night, since your child won't feel like sleeping just a few hours after waking from an afternoon nap.
- Keep nap time consistent from day to day. Toddlers need routine to feel secure. If your child goes through the same steps each day, she'll know what to expect, and you can hope she'll be more compliant. If she usually reads three books before you tuck her in, for example, make sure you don't skip this activity even if you're pressed for time.
If your toddler stays home with you, make sure she naps in the same place she sleeps at night, says Jodi Mindell, a pediatric sleep expert. Don't give in to demands to nap on the couch or in your bed. This will help her associate her own crib or bed with sleep and help her wind down more quickly.
If your toddler attends daycare or preschool and naps there, try to follow the same routine both places. Make sure she has her stuffed bear or blanket and try to have her go down at the same time on weekends that she sleeps at school.
- Make sure your toddler falls asleep on his own at night. Once he's mastered drifting off on his own during bedtime without being rocked, nursed, or lulled to sleep, he'll be able to do so during the day.
- Stay firm but calm. Although it's frustrating having to deal with a toddler who won't nap, the best thing you can do is not show him that he's getting to you.
Try to avoid making nap time a battleground. Just tell him that he looks tired and needs to rest, and you do too. Then give him a hug and a kiss, tuck him in, and leave the room.
If he cries, check in with him and try to soothe him but don't lie down next to him. If you do, he'll get used to falling asleep only when you're there, and you'll have another set of problems on your hands.
If he absolutely refuses to nap, leave him with some toys and books and tell him it's quiet time. Although he won't feel as rested as he would if he'd slept, having an hour or two when he's not involved in rambunctious play can at least shore up his energy. Read more on toddler sleep.