End the naptime battle forever- and cement your kids’ brain development. Five toddler sleep training techniques to end the naptime battle forever and to sleep train children from 0-5 years old.
Every single day from 1-3 pm I have time to myself. Yes- two entire hours to recharge my batteries. Some days I take a much-needed nap in my super comfy bed or read a novel (are we Goodreads friends yet?) Some days I spend two hours running my blog or social media. Some days I take a hot shower and then stare at my toes. This is because my kids are napping in their beds- and this has been going on for the past 6 years.
The most common reaction I get from other parents when I share our family’s daily naptime ritual is “Wow, you are so lucky.” The second most common reaction is parents who tell me “What are your top toddler sleep training techniques?”
So before I get into exactly how I get my kids to sleep each day (and I promise it will work for you too!) I want to first tell you that I am not lucky that my kids take a daily nap. Merriam Webster defines luck as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”
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I have worked my ass off to make sure nap time happens each day- and you can do the same! There are several reasons that I decided to make naptime a priority in our house- but it has rarely been easy to enforce naptime when the girls wanted to rebel. The pain was worth it though as naptime has kept everyone in our house sane.
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Why Is Naptime Important?
At the core of why we wanted to establish healthy sleep rituals in our house is because I know there is a huge correlation between early childhood sleep habits and brain development. I have always wanted to make sure that I have healthy, smart and thriving kids- and that means they need the time for their brains to develop.
Having optimal conditions for brain development is an especially important consideration for parents of bilingual kids. Bilingual children do a ton of heavy cognitive lifting as they create neuron paths that support the simultaneous development of two languages. That means they need a lot of sleep.
I also think that naptime is an important time for caregivers. Parenting is a really hard, emotionally exhausting time, and by about 1 or 2 pm each day, both the kids and the parents need a break. I think there is a really strong tendency in our culture right now to overstimulate and over-plan activities for our kids.
As a result, I often see parents unintentionally teaching their kids to not listen to their bodies when they are tired, and instead push through exhaustion from a very young age. I disagree with the premise, and truly believe that young children need a break- as do the parents. Anyone who has witnessed a massive theme park meltdown knows what I am talking about.
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How Do I Get My Kids To Nap?
The reality of parenthood also includes the dreaded naptime rebellion. Naptime rebellion almost often happens on the days when the parent or caregiver is most exhausted, or most need to get something done during naptime. (Same with bedtime rebellions, but that’s a post for another day!)
For my kids, the naptime rebellions would happen at about 4 months, again at 9 months, at about 18 months, and then at 2.5 and just after 3. I simply chose to liken these naptime rebellions to the periods in my life when I didn’t want to go to bed on time.
Whenever I don’t get enough sleep (like when I went clubbing 7 nights a week for a month in college or decided to stay up binge reading the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy instead of going to bed) it’s because I have decided there might be something much cooler to do than sleep.
I have never not gotten enough sleep because I truly needed less sleep. It’s the same with our kids. They have determined there will be something cooler going on than sleeping- that they will miss out on something if they go to sleep.
To that end, all of my toddler sleep training techniques revolve around the premise that it’s super important to make sure there is absolutely nothing fun going on during nap time. During nap rebellions, my kids will often get out of their beds to check what is happening around the house.
They have “caught” me sleeping, reading a book with no pictures, or cleaning- but they don’t catch me with screen time or coloring or anything else that could be deemed fun. (This doesn’t mean I don’t do these things, but I just don’t start them until the kids are asleep.)
Of course, getting my kids to sleep at nap time every day was not as easy as doing boring things when they got out of bed. So next I’ll break down for you my five toddler sleep training techniques by sharing exactly how I established healthy daytime sleep routines in our house.
Five Foolproof Toddler Sleep Training Techniques
Toddler Sleep Training Technique #1- Nap at the same time each day
One of the hardest things in the world is to put an overstimulated baby or child to sleep. Their little bodies can’t seem to slow down, and they fight everything about sleep. I remember holding my younger daughter during her afternoon naps for months because I failed to realize I was putting her down at the wrong time of day.
I was so exhausted from holding her instead of getting my own downtime. It was a tough few months for everyone until I figured out that she needed to go to sleep at the exact same time every single day. And since we had established a sleepy time ritual that took about 15 minutes, we needed to start early.
This meant moving playdates to an earlier time, or not even engaging in them if we were invited somewhere that wouldn’t allow us to get everyone down for nap in time. And I’ll be honest- that was tough for me to miss out on time with friends or other activities so that my kids could sleep at the same time each day. Because I was a nap crazed mom- we never, ever, ever missed nap. Ever. (More on that ahead).
However, during training time and naptime rebellion, we had to establish a routine that little bodies could rely on to settle down. Looking back as I have two full hours a day to myself, I can say that setting naptime in stone is one of the best parenting decisions I have ever made.
And- I will also say that as the kids get older, we can play with the time kids nap a bit more- it can be a bit earlier or a bit later depending on the day and what we have going on. That true flexibility didn’t happen until the girls were about 3, however.
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Toddler Sleep Training Technique #2- Establish a healthy sleep environment
I believe that children should sleep comfortably, one their own, in their beds unless there is absolutely no other option. I know this is not a popular opinion, but it’s absolutely what I did and what I believe is one of the key factors to naptime success. This means my children did not sleep in their baby carriers, in car seats, in baby slings, nothing. They sleep in a home environment in a bed. A good bed is worth every penny- and we have invested in good mattresses for everyone in the family over the years.
Another part of the toddler sleep training techniques includes working hard to establish a relaxing and predictable sleep environment. My girls sleep in their pajamas, with comfy pillows and blankets and a lovey or stuffy. I have a white noise machine that we have used for years without problems, and I keep a video monitor in their rooms so I can see if they are sleeping, playing, or ready to jailbreak.
We keep their rooms dark- I DIY-ed some blackout window shades and the girls each have a nightlight they love. I also keep their rooms at a comfortable temperature for sleeping- this means I have fans when the days are especially hot, and electric space heaters for the days that are especially cold.
I go even one step further and do not store toys in the girls’ rooms- we use our bedrooms for sleeping, reading dressing, etc. Play happens in designated play areas so there aren’t tons of distractions when they lay down for bed. Again- this might not work for everyone, but I’m telling you how we roll at Casa Pura Vida.
Toddler Sleep Training Technique #3- Establish a predictable naptime ritual
As we get ready to lay down for nap, we have a naptime ritual that is the exact same, in the exact same order each day. As the girls have gotten older (they are now 3.5 and almost 6) this routine has gotten shorter, but we still have one. I’ll give a few examples- with the caveat that you know your child much better than I do, and so do what works for you and your child.
From 0-18 months we started naptime with a diaper change, changing into pajamas if necessary and a short book. I would nurse and sing, and then put the baby in the crib the exact same way. Turn off the lights and leave. I generally will let a baby fuss and fidget for a good amount of time before going back into the room, but rarely will I let a baby all out cry in distress.
From 18-36 months we would usually do a diaper change or potty time, change into pajamas. I then do a story time with the lights low (we use remote control on a dim lamp), prayers and sing a lullaby. I usually lay by the kids while I sing and then sneak out.
36 months and older- kids do potty and decide what they want to wear to nap. I read a story, prayers and sing if they want. Child puts herself in bed and rests for as long as their body needs- no less than 45 minutes.
Toddler Sleep Training Technique #4- Naptime starts the second your child wakes up in the morning
One of the common threads around naptime rebellion at our house is that the rebellion seems to happen when my girls feel they aren’t getting enough attention. One way the demand undivided attention is to refuse to nap until I’m willing to do about anything to get them to nap.
I have learned that if I spend several micro-moments with each of my children throughout the morning and before naptime, they tend to go to sleep a lot easier. Try some extra hugs and kisses, a story together just because, allowing your child to help prepare their own lunch or to eat their lunch on your lap. I also love this 10 Miracle Phrases printable.
The key is to have showered your children with so much positive attention that when nap time comes around they want to please you. Plus, they know you have their best interest at heart because you have earned their trust all morning.
Toddler Sleep Training Technique #5- Never, ever, ever skip nap. Ever.
Today I was reading the novel Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kristin Chen. In the fictional novel, the protagonist’s mom is struggling with alcoholism. There’s a point in the book when everyone at the table is drinking fine red wine and the mother declines to imbibe. It’s a pivotal moment for both characters, and the author describes it with this line: “Sometimes ‘no’ is just easier than ‘maybe.’ “
I think the same holds true for naps. I just decided that naptime at our house would be non-negotiable. Period. We would always nap. This means that we plan road trips around naps- we find hotels that allow us to check in earlier enough for nap. When we went to Disneyland, we stopped each day at 1 for our nap. Christmas? Opened presents, played, and then took a nap. There is no “maybe” about naptime- none for me and none for the girls.
This means that when the girls are in their beds and not wanting to sleep, we can see them on their monitors. I go in immediately to redirect with love. Sometimes this is a gentle reminder about why sleep is important. Other times I sing a song or pray a prayer again. Redirecting might be an incentive as well- we generally do not do screen time before naps specifically so that I can use the screen as an incentive.
Also once we learned numbers, I put a small digital alarm clock in the girls’ rooms. I then either gave a printout of the time when they were allowed to leave their room, or as they got older and know more numbers I just tell them what time they can come out of their room. I can’t even count the number of times my kids have fallen asleep waiting for the numbers to change. It cracks me up- and it works!
As Big Sister nears 6 years old, I am open to the idea of her having quiet time as opposed to nap time. At least 5 days out of 7 she will lay down and sleep for about 45 minutes to an hour. But there are days when she will come to me and ask for quiet time instead of nap. I allow her this autonomy because she has learned to listen to her body- she generally knows when she is tired or not because I have taught her healthy sleep habits.