Toddler Nap Tips: 3 Secrets to Successful Naps for 12-36 Month Olds

And you thought toddler naps would be easy…You would think that you have paid your sleep dues by now, right!? I mean, come on.

First the traumatizing newborn days, then the crap naps (and straight-up nap refusals), you somehow survived that unmentionable bout with co-sleeping, the hard work of sleep training (that totally paid off though), more sleep regressions than postpartum hair loss (which is saying a LOT), and those random and scaring “bad nights” that you chalked up to teething, tummy aches, and a full moon or two.

You thought you were in the clear, that you’ve found your way to that light at the end of the tunnel, only for toddlerhood to smack you right across the face like the volatile ninja that it is. I hear you. And I get it.

And you’ve come to the right little blog post. I have 3 things you can do to lessen the pain of toddler naps and get your little one back to napping faster than you might think! 


1. Stay consistent with a nap schedule

girl toddler refusing a nap | The Peaceful Sleeper

It seems super obvious: the nap is more work and trouble than a hormonal teenager constantly breaking curfew, so the logical thing to do is DROP IT! However, the reality is, your toddler still needs this rest to reset their little brain.

Dropping it now will be a regret far greater than that ill-advised juicer purchase. Trust me, it’s totally worth it to push through and hold onto that nap until your toddler is at least 3 years old. But I do get it.

When you’re in the thick of the nap strike, you need some strategies to mitigate the day drinking. So here are a few.

Try and think of it as more of a “quiet time” than a nap. It’s a chance (for you both) to have some time to rest, play with stuffies (do the daily wordle), read a few books (watch Love is Blind), and lay quietly while talking to oneself (ditto).

I also suggest having a consistent naptime routine. Keep it simple, but have a clear transition into a few simple nap time steps. Something manageable that doesn’t feel like ONE MORE thing to do (like those annoying school surveys). For example: finish lunch, clean up while calming music plays, go upstairs, read a book together, say goodnight. You should also make sure that they have the same sleep space for naps. Ideally that means a separate room instead of on-the-go car seat naps, at a friends house, or on the living room couch.

Additionally, it is much more likely that you will find success when sticking to the plan, if you give your toddler the opportunity to burn off all that shocking and unreasonable amount of energy for the nap. Best case scenario this means outside time with all the equally helpful fresh air, but you can also host a little dance party, build a simple obstacle course, turn on some youtube kids exercise videos, or any other creative idea that requires only a moderate amount of work on your part.

Bottom line is, if you stay consistent, even when your 12-36 month old is revolting against nap time, things will likely bounce back, and your little one will go back to taking a nap, or at the very least, enjoying a pleasant hour of quiet time. 

If you haven’t already, download my FREE Ultimate Naps Guide. It’ll give you all the knowledge you need to help your baby (or toddler) take great naps! Download for free here 💤

2. Set Boundaries 

14 month old toddler waking up from a nap | The Peaceful Sleeper

So you’re staying consistent with the nap time, the place and the routine. Now you need to set some clear boundaries.

Toddlers are more willful than a 90-year-old set in their ways. It is in their developmental nature to test boundaries and push limits. This is their way of exploring and understanding the world around them. How you respond to this can make or break your sanity.

Think of naptime like a division of responsibilities. You both are responsible for certain things. You are responsible for choosing the time, the space, the duration, and the surroundings and environment of the naptime space. Your adorable little monkey is responsible for choosing whether or not they go to sleep.

But since toddlers love to have some control, you can give them a few more things to be “responsible” for. By this I mean choosing their pajamas, what x number of stuffies they have in their bed (pro tip: you choose the “x” so it doesn’t end up taking forever to scrounge up every stuffy in the house), and what book(s) to read. Again, I recommend keeping the plural in “books” to a bare minimum. For your own sanity.

The key with this boundary setting, is to make it clear, and keep it consistent. In our house, the expectation for naptime is it happens right after lunch, for one hour, in their room, with the door closed. They have chosen their pajamas, their stuffies and 3 books to bring to bed. If they fall asleep during that hour, then I’m happier than a kid at Disneyland. If they end up just having a quiet time, than I’m as happy as a parent at Disneyland; they got a much needed hour to rest and reset, and I got an hour to get caught up on chores watch Netflix and drink coffee. 

If you haven’t already, download my FREE Ultimate Naps Guide. It’ll give you all the knowledge you need to help your baby (or toddler) take great naps! Download for free here 💤

3. Think Motivate not Authoritate

a young toddler about 18 months old playing with toys instead of napping | The Peaceful Sleeper

Ok fine. Authoritate isn’t a word. But it flows better than “authorative”. And just like sleep, rules don’t always make sense. See what I did there?

ANYWAY, my point is, you will be a lot happier and more successful if you let go of control surrounding naptimes. As I’ve said before, you cannot MAKE your child sleep. You can set the stage, the boundaries, maintain consistency and OPTIMIZE their sleep, but at the end of the day, you (sadly) cannot control if they actually go to sleep. And having a power struggle over this, is going to cause more harm than good. So take a deep breath and just let it go. 

Instead, put all that energy into focusing on how to motivate your little one to enjoy (or at least tolerate) their nap/quiet time. Let’s dig into this a little. If your toddler is protesting naptime (and you have clear boundaries and maintain consistency) then there are a few things you can do to try and make the whole experience more successful.

Start with incentives. What will encourage your little one to partake in naptime? Maybe they will respond well to trading in playtime now for a special outing with you AFTER nap (no, I don’t mean Great Wolf Lodge, but maybe the park will do?). A sticker chart also works for some families. You know your kid best. An “ok to wake” clock is also super helpful. If your clock is like the Hatch, then let them choose the color and sound that signifies the end of the hour. You can also program it to have a song or lullaby on for the first 15 minutes, with the mutual understanding that if they are still awake after the 15 minutes, then they can play quietly in their room for the rest of the hour. 

Now if they are protesting naptime HARD then things can feel like an impending avalanche. When this happens, try to come back to the “division of responsibility”. Let go of what you cannot control and stay calm. If you maintain a calm demeanor (even if you are about to lose your actual mind), then your toddler will pick up on this and it will most certainly help to keep the situation from slipping into a full-blown Harry vs Voldemort situation. If they are leaving their room before the hour is up, then you can gently but firmly remind them of the expected behavior for nap/quiet time, and walk them back to their room, whilst maintaining your Olympic-medal level of being calm and collected. If you give your toddler some of the control that they crave, and sneak in some motivating elements, then naptime should start to go a lot smoother. 

Recap on Toddler (12 months, 18 months, 24 months, etc.) Nap Tips

The biggest thing to remember is that, just like the progress of most things in life, sleep isn’t linear. You are going to have good days, and not-so-good days (looking at you, 24-month sleep regression).

Teething, illness and regressions are all going to throw a big fat wrench into your sleep progress. However, as long as you have laid the foundation for great sleep, and taught your little one the skill of independent sleep, then they WILL bounce back. And these three tips are sure to help with that!

If you haven’t sleep trained your toddler yet, then what are you waiting for? It is NEVER too late to learn better sleep skills. Click here for my video course on sleep training where I specifically address sleep training older babies! And for ALL the tips and tricks on toddler naps, toddler power struggles and more, check out my Toddler Guide Pack. It has everything you need to get the best possible sleep through the toddler years. 

Any other toddler nap tips that helped your little one?! Tell me in the comments!

If you haven’t already, download my FREE Ultimate Naps Guide. It’ll give you all the knowledge you need to help your baby (or toddler) take great naps! Download for free here 💤
Christine Lawler

Christine Lawler

MS, LMFT, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Hi! I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, practicing for over 13 years. I’ve set out to do ALL of the research and I created a method to optimize baby sleep that is tuned in, empowering and WORKS. There absolutely should be joy in motherhood, and I have learned that every baby CAN get better sleep!

Read more about my team here.

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