Nap training a toddler

Avery hasn’t napped anywhere but in the car or in the stroller since we weaned. She has given us a few tantrums when we’ve tried. One of them even lasted for 2 hours before I gave up on nap time for that day. But she has been starting to refuse to get into the stroller when she knows it’s to nap, and I can’t keep burning gas for a 2 hour nap. So, nap training had to happen.

Day 1.

It was a bit unplanned. I realized the stroller was in the back of my wife’s car, at work with her. I explained to Avery on the drive home from her half-day daycare that we were going to have a nap in her bed today, because it was time for her to learn to fall asleep in a bed at naptime. I told her we could read a book and then we’d lay down together on her bed.

She started crying immediately – still on the drive home. “No bed!!! Mommy drive car!! Tv!! Paw patrol!! No bed!” She was begging for any alternative.

I dragged her, kicking and screaming, into the house and up to her room. I dimmed the lights.

For the next hour and a half, she had a violent tantrum. I had to hold the door closed (from the inside – I stayed with her). I asked if she wanted me to leave, in case my presence was making it worse, but she said “mommy stay!”. She screamed like a demon. I tried to strike a balance in my voice between calm/loving and stern/confident. I kept my words short and infrequent to allow her to get her rage out. When I spoke, I repeated,

“I love you, and you need to sleep.”

“We’re staying here for nap time. You can cry on the floor, or you can come and cuddle with me and go to sleep.”

“Come to bed now.”

She didn’t calm down and take a breath. Like, at all. I eventually had to start physically removing her from her door handle and putting her in bed. Every other second. When I would say “I love you” she started to scream “I love you” back, and I began to worry that I was somehow emotionally abusing her – making her think she needed to say I love you to get away from my grasp. I had to physically block her from leaving her bed. Her eyes were rolling back in her head. I could just see white through her exhausted squint. She had bags under her eyes. She was hoarse, losing her voice. She could barely stand up when she would escape the bed – she’d stumble and fall and hit her head on the floor. She was so exhausted.

We were both soaked in sweat. Her hair was plastered to her forehead.

I knew I couldn’t lose resolve, or this would all be for nothing. She wouldn’t understand why I was being so authoritative if I suddenly gave up and let her leave her room and not nap. It was hard.

But then she went limp. She just couldn’t fight any more. She whimpered, through closed eyes, “read book?” I grabbed her favourite alphabet bedtime book from beside the bed and started reading it very quietly and softly. Her eyes remained closed. Once I heard the snores, I put down the book and breathed. It worked.

Now to do it all over again tomorrow.

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16 thoughts on “Nap training a toddler

  1. I’ve totally done the physical blocking into bed on more than one occasion (including last night)!! I lay so my legs cross the bottom half of the bed so she can’t climb out, haha. And I try that stern/loving voice too. I remind myself that kids benefit from having clear lines drawn and knowing that parents stick with the rules. Kids without strong guidance on issues like this can feel lost and like they have too much control. Hang in there. It’s rough, but the reward will be worth it!! One thing that has helped is if I just tell “stories” in the dark. I get sick of thinking of stories, so I start reciting music lyrics or just tell the stories from her books as best as I can remember. It seems to stop the crying enough for her to relax a little though.

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  2. Major props to you on this. My almost 3 year old refuses to nap in his bed at home on weekends, despite napping quite happily at daycare every day, so I usually end up tossing him into the truck and we go for a drive so he can sleep and I can (sort of) get a break. It’s not ideal at all but I just don’t have it in me to battle the nap at home. But you give me major inspiration to maybe try again and stick it out this time. Good luck for tomorrow. I hope it goes way better than today!

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    • Thanks! And good luck to you if you decide to try. It’s not easy.. but since Avery still has maybe a year of napping left, and she’s at home with me for every nap time, I had to do something!

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  3. I feel your pain. My oldest daughter would react like that to any mention of the words “nap” or “sleep” (in the daytime; she was fine at night). When she looked sleepy I used to offer to read her a story, and pick something that was just a little boring or quite long, and lie on the sofa with her, getting slower and quieter as I read… It usually did the trick, though I learnt to have a few spare books within reach in case she was still awake when we finished the first one! I also discovered that she was happy to “have some quiet time in your room” (without me), and would play quietly or chat to herself for a while, and would usually fall asleep. My last resort (I was pregnant and exhausted) was just to lie down in her room and take a nap myself, with in there with me, and she played or slept next to me!

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  4. Keep lots of talk going about what a good learner she is. How it can be hard but we practice and wow is she good at learning.
    Talk about how she kept working at learning to walk, learning to eat from a spoon, Wow is she good at practice and learning (keep repeating this).
    Then talk about all the little things she will be practicing and learning: recognition of her name in letters, recognition of her house numbers, recitation of her phone number and address, her whole name, all those little things.
    Make it part of her identity that she works at learning and keeps practicing. That she is a wonderful adventurer with new things. It will help with reading and math and her whole life if she sees herself as a good learner.
    Tough stuff. Hang in and lots of support! Praise for you both!

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    • Thank you! I’m terrible at following through with something that’s hard for me, so I’ve always known I want to raise my child(ren) to feel an internal motivation to practice and follow through on tasks/learning. So I love your advice! During today’s naptime she only fought me for 10 min and then laid down and went right to sleep (after singing herself an adorable little song). So when she wakes I’ll be sure to praise her for practicing going to sleep in her bed at nap time, and how she is learning to sleep in bed. ❤️

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