Just when your household seems to have struck a healthy balance with a toddler on a great sleep schedule, the dreaded “terrible twos” roll along to shake things back up again. 

This phase can begin prior to their second birthday, depending on your little one’s individual maturation. Whether or not you buy into the terrible twos, you might be dealing with some extra oppositional behavior around this age. From obvious parental preference to unpredictable mood swings, toddlers can really amp up the attitude!

One of the main concerns during this period is the two year old nap strike, where a toddler suddenly refuses to take their normal daytime nap. It’s a frequent occurrence for most toddlers and usually takes parents very off guard!

There are several factors that contribute to a nap strike. Let’s discuss how to handle these ups and downs together so that your home can return to comfortable sleep routines. 

First, the “Why” Behind the Strike

As with most problems, it’s ideal to identify the underlying reason for your baby or toddler’s nap strike to help you decide on the best course of action. The fact is, they’re probably not just taking a stand! Something is disrupting their normal sleep patterns, and you need to find out what. Here are some common explanations for this phenomenon.

They’re Growing

Childhood development keeps everyone on their toes. Kids reach specific growth stages that bring with them new behaviors or skills, and that can make for a difficult adjustment in a busy family. You’ve navigated regressions before, though this may feel different as a two year old can be a force to be reckoned with when they’re determined! But don’t worry: there’s a reason it’s happening!

The supposed “terrible twos” milestone aligns with your toddler’s blossoming awareness of their surroundings and a yearning to be more autonomous, this coupled with a lack of self regulation,  is why toddlers become frustrated and upset so easily. Their increased desire to be independent, exert their will, as well as participate with others ends up backfiring when an inability to communicate properly leads to tantrums and acting out. 

Remember, toddlers need boundaries in all areas of their life and this includes  sleep boundaries.  Don’t allow your kiddos pushback to prevent you from being the strong parent that they need you to be! It’s your job to be the parent and hold the boundary. This can be done with compassion and kindness. But if you find yourself getting frustrated on an ongoing basis this is a good sign that getting some help from a sleep coach might be in order. 

So the next time your toddler is fighting a nap, remember that this is a normal developmental phase. One that will pass as long as you stay strong. Giving in and allowing them to get up too soon or worse yet, giving them a screen to keep them quiet  (this would basically be rewarding them for putting up a fight)  means that the likelihood that the nap strike will continue longer than necessary is likely. 

Their Routines Are Changing

Any disturbance in a child’s routine—such as bottle weaning, going to daycare/preschool, stopping co-sleeping, starting potty training, getting a big kid bed, traveling with the family, or welcoming a new sibling—can create  resistance to napping. And as we’ve said, age two onward is filled with change. 

Another thing to think about is if your toddler is getting enough playtime outdoors, This can have a huge impact on sleep along with getting enough natural light during the day. Natural light plays a big role in keeping our circadian rhythms on track and in ramping up our sleep hormones in the evening. Wearing out your toddler by playing outside may be just the ticket that makes for an easier naptime. Don’t underestimate the power of outdoor play. If you can’t get outdoors due to the weather then roughhousing indoors is the next best thing to burn off energy.

Do wake windows need to be adjusted?

Many times tweaking wake windows is something that gets overlooked when a toddler starts refusing to nap. Remember wake windows are always lengthening as your toddler gets older. The general rule of thumb for a 2 year old is to have roughly a 5 hour wake window before nap and a 5 – 5 ½  hour wake window before bed. Troubleshooting nap refusals may mean making sure your kiddo is awake by 7:00am and then making sure you start winding down for a nap after lunch by reading some books and having a calming pre nap routine. Making sure your toddler has some one-on-one time with you can also be helpful so you can make sure his emotional tank is full before going to sleep. 

One way to lessen the drama of change to your toddlers daily life is to integrate small substitutions or modifications gradually so that the impact isn’t as severe. However there are some instances where “Cold turkey” is going to be significantly less painful than trying to make a change slowly with a toddler. Removing bottle feedings if you haven’t done so  would be one such example! 

And, of course, there’s going to be considerable trial and error as your child grows up; your family has to accommodate different energy levels, feeding schedules, play activities, and more. Making mistakes is inevitable. Just course correct as quickly as possible once you’ve realized you’ve gotten off track. Give yourself credit for adapting to these rapid-fire changes, and be sure to also extend that grace to your little one as they grapple with all the developmental changes too.

Another Source Is Troubling Them

If it’s not their unavoidable growth spurts or upsets to daily routines causing the two year old nap strike, there’s bound to be tiny culprits lurking elsewhere. Traditional setbacks such as teething, nightmares, overstimulation, seasonal or food allergies, separation anxiety, or environmental discomforts have a detrimental effect on sleep and should be treated accordingly. Even their diet plays a role. Making sure your kiddo is eating whole foods (ask yourself does it grow on a tree or out of the ground) with very limited access to sugar is something I always recommend. Even fruit sugar can be an issue for some kids so don’t forget to evaluate meals and snacks. Meals should consist of high protein, complex carbs (vegetable carbs) and high quality fats. The protein and fats will regulate blood sugar and satiate your little one for several hours and the complex carbs, especially starchy carbs (think sweet potatoes, squash, beans, lentils) are great at inducing sleep. 

Kids also experience understandable sleep disruptions during the holidays or when traveling with the family, so their refusal to nap could be temporary based on those settings or situations. You may just need to tweak the frequency or duration of the naps. But if your toddler is still regularly struggling against napping, they’re likely stuck in that nap strike rut. 

No matter the culprit, it’s essential to pinpoint the reason behind your two year old’s aversion to naps and address the issue for better rest going forward. (A pediatric sleep specialist can assist you in solving this puzzle!)

Ending the Nap Strike

Parents have the power to reclaim a beneficial nap schedule for their babies or toddlers despite this stubborn phase. You know your child’s sleep needs best, so with that in mind, you can apply these tips to support their daytime rest and build a foundation for good sleep hygiene in the future.

Maintain a Realistic Nap Routine

It’s absolutely vital to stick with a consistent nap schedule as much as possible. A reliable sleep routine serves as a predictable signal to your toddler that it’s time to rest. This steady commitment to maintaining their nap requirements each day creates a comforting regimen for your child.

Sleep training from a young age enables babies to learn to self-soothe and observe routine nap time, and the habits and tools you learn will help you deal with disruptions as your child gets a little older. Total sameness around your toddler’s nap routine minimizes distress: same time, same length, same room, and always with limited sensory distractions (dark, quiet, temperature-controlled).

Be Flexible but Firm

Yes, it’s paradoxical, but bear with me! Flexibility and firmness are equally important skills as a parent, and knowing when to properly wield each one simplifies the two year old nap strike. Be ready to carefully tailor your plans to fit your child’s needs as they grow and recognize that nap strikes aren’t forever. Your toddler just needs a bit of flexible guidance. 

In tandem with that continued adaptability, set clear expectations with your toddler by communicating with them and treating them like the big boy or girl they are. Give them age appropriate choices so they feel a sense of collaboration and control. They’ll be more receptive to a structured nap routine if you give them the right dose of comfort and reassurance that they’re looking for at this age. Actively working on their nap patterns together by instituting firm boundaries reduces bedtime issues overall.

Read Their Cues and Note What Works

Your toddler will eventually show signs of tiredness regardless of how dedicated they are to their nap strike. Providing them a space for “quiet time” helps young children relax into a sleepier disposition, so try establishing an intentional wind-down as part of their nap routine to get them in the mood. (Psst: this will let them feel like they have a say in all of it!)

Notice what works to get your little one napping since every child is unique. Do they like sound machines or gentle music? Does wearing them out with playtime beforehand lessen their opposition to sleep? Are they prone to tummy aches if they nap too close to lunch? Is there a special stuffy they want to cuddle with to sleep well? Taking note of these details will equip you with more knowledge to handle a toddler going through their terrible twos nap strike.

Sleep Better Together with Your Sleeping Baby

The two year old nap strike is one of the most exasperating stages for parents and babies alike. It’s not only stressful for you as a parent, but it’s challenging for your toddler too. Luckily, there are strategies to alleviate this burden for you both. With the support of pediatric sleep specialists like Your Sleeping Baby, families can rest easy, even during the terrible twos. 

If you’re looking for more personalized advice for your toddler’s nap needs, we offer one-on-one coaching to rectify your family’s sleep problems once and for all. Put an end to the nap strike—bring back sound sleep and reach out for a consultation of your own

10 Simple Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep Better Tonight

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