You’ve hit it: the milestone that no one wants to talk about, and everyone dreads…your toddler has recently started skipping their only daytime nap!
When this happens, it’s normal to feel a sense of fear or dread. “That’s my only break during the day,” is a super common concern I hear as a sleep consultant. “Without it, I won’t get anything done, and I won’t have any me time during the day. I need my kid to keep that nap!”
It might give us moms some anxiety, but dropping the afternoon nap is 100% normal for toddlers. So is your child ready for this transition? How can you teach your child to actually enjoy quiet time…instead of using it as an excuse to tear the house apart?
Why it happens and when it happens depends on the child and family setting – but don’t panic! I can teach you an easy way to transition your child from nap to quiet time without losing sleep.
Today I’m answering 10 of your most asked questions about the transition from nap to quiet time!
10 Answers from a Sleep Consultant: How to Transition Your Toddler from Naptime to Quiet Time
How do you know when your toddler is ready to drop their nap?
When your little one isn’t so little anymore, it can be hard to tell whether they need a nap at all during the day. This is especially true for toddlers who skip naps here and there and make it all the way to bedtime without any crankiness at all.
So how do you know when your toddler is ready to drop their nap? Some kids will drop their afternoon nap long before their friends, others will continue this pattern of daytime sleep well into their 3’s and 4’s. The most telling sign, however, is bedtime.
Look out for the following “time to drop the nap” signs:
- Bedtime has started to creep later and later.
- Your toddler is fighting the bedtime routine more and more.
- Your toddler is lying awake for long after you put them to bed.
If you’re noticing any of these signs, dropping the nap is essential.
What age do toddlers give up naps?
Typically, I see this transition begin somewhere between the ages of 2.5 and 3.5 years old. Just like their parents, every child has their own sleep patterns and needs, which makes the transition from nap to quiet time tricky to spot at times. Know that if your child has started to really protest going down for a nap (or bedtime is starting to be a problem), it’s probably time to cut it entirely.
Why is quiet time necessary?
Have you ever had a time when you just needed a break from people (even ones you absolutely love hanging out with?) Our toddlers have the same social needs we do…even if they have a hard time expressing it.
I never recommend cutting the nap without giving our kids an alternative. Toddlers, in particular, need to have some sort of break from us during the day, and the introduction of quiet time helps them acquire skills they just can’t learn from us:
Skills that quiet time teaches:
- Independent play – This one is HUGE for Mamas who need a break during the day. The transition from nap to quiet time gives our kids the opportunity to build their own worlds and use their imagination every day without the need of a parent to entertain them.
- Problem-solving – Threw the bunny under the bed? Time to figure out how to get it back. Maybe the blocks won’t stay up? They’ll have to figure out how to make things balanced on their own. The ability to play on their own without becoming bored or frustrated will also help our kids accomplish difficult tasks later in life.
- Inner calm – I can’t tell you how calm your child will be once he/she comes back from this time of independent play and alone time in their room. While it might seem like this kind of break would be jarring to a child, most kids I work with actually welcome the lack of parental guidance and ultimate freedom that comes from time by themselves!
Is Quiet time as good as a nap?
I encourage all my parents to introduce the transition from nap to quiet time as soon as their child is ready. Once the nap is no longer needed, quiet time is the only thing that will fill your toddler’s need for downtime!
Know that while a nap is purpose-built to allow the body to turn off completely, quiet time is something different entirely. This period of “active rest” doesn’t have to include sleep (although sometimes it will), however it will allow your child space to sit, lay down, or roll around in their bed by themselves…which creates a good amount of comfort and calm!
How do you introduce a quiet time to a toddler?
It’s best to schedule in quiet time for your toddler at the same time their nap used to be. For most kids, this will start between 12:30PM and 1:30PM.
Use the following steps to introduce quiet time to your toddler:
- Prepare your toddler early in the day. Let your toddler know that today you will be switching from naptime to just “quiet time”, then lay down the rules for what this means. Giving your child the heads up will make it easier to enforce should they decide to test the new routine.
- Start at the normal nap time slot. As soon as it’s time, tell your toddler, “It’s time for quiet time to start.” Again, I like to plan this so it sits right on top of where naptime used to be.
- Give your child directions to go upstairs and pick something to play with. I don’t usually recommend taking your toddler upstairs with hand-holding or by picking them up if you can help it. This is a great opportunity to teach your child how to follow directions on their own and will help them feel more in charge of their routine.
- Tell them (or even better – show them!) that you will set a timer for 1 hour. No one likes to work on a task without knowing when they get to stop. Let your child know that once the timer goes off, they’re free to come back downstairs for the next part of their day!
(I like to use the Hatch Light as a visual cue for toddlers! This light shines red or green depending on its internal timer (parents can choose the times beforehand) and will let your toddler know when it’s ok to come out of their room.)
How long should quiet time for a toddler be?
Some kids may love quiet time so much, you may have a hard time getting them to stop playing on their own once they’ve started! I recommend anywhere from 1 to 2 hours of quiet time.
What are some quiet activities?
My son Owen has an entire closet of costumes that he loves playing in! Choose an activity that your child has already shown a keen interest in, then reserve those toys just for quiet time. After quiet time put them away. I suggest making 3 separate containers and each day your child gets to choose 1.
Some good quiet time activity examples:
- Toy train sets
- Dress up boxes
- Legos (if age appropriate)
- Puzzles or marble games (if age appropriate)
- Crayons and paper
- Farm toys and animals
The sky is the limit! As long as your child is interested in their quiet time toys, you really can’t go wrong with this one.
Should you force your toddler to nap?
Very rarely do I work with families who have older toddlers that still need the nap – so please don’t force your child to sleep if they aren’t sleepy! Forcing your toddler to lay still in bed and sleep – especially if they don’t need daytime sleep anymore – will cause more problems during the day and at bedtime than necessary. If they’re ready to transition from nap to quiet time, let them!
How do I get my toddler to stay in quiet time?
Toddlers are notorious for testing the boundaries, and quiet time is no exception. Expect that your child will probably come out of their room a few times before they get the hang of it!
If your child is coming out of their room before their quiet time is done, try the following:
- Introduce a Hatch Light. Having a visual cue is much stronger than mom or dad saying, “You can’t come out yet.” The colors in this light really help kids build on their self-control skills. I’m absolutely obsessed with this light – it’s a game-changer for parents!
- Start slower. If your toddler is really struggling with staying in one place for an hour, try cutting the time down to 45 minutes. If that’s still difficult for them, try 30 minutes to start (but no less). Work up to an hour in slow increments!
- Create barriers. Once you’ve tried the above two tips, it’s time to put some stronger enforcement in place. Baby gates or even a closed bedroom door might have to be put in place until your toddler can successfully play on their own.
And if you or your family are still struggling to figure out if your child is ready to transition from nap to quiet time, please don’t hesitate to book a 15-minute FREE consultation with me or one of my consultants! We’re not here to pressure you or sell you anything at all – your Denver sleep coach is here to listen and come up with solutions so you can get back to the most important thing in your day – SLEEP!