How to get your toddler to have a daytime nap every day

Naps during the day help your little one to sleep better at night - a perfect excuse to tuck your tot up

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1 to 2 years

Once the first candle’s blown out on the birthday cake, your baby will probably nap once or twice a day.

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Good timing?

As sleep requirements evolve, daily routines change. ‘Most toddlers still need plenty of sleep at this age,’ says Annette. ‘Outings and playgroups in the morning ensure afternoon naps are maximised.’

Tweaking naps makes all the difference to your day. Lucinda likes the afternoon nap to be a relatively early one. ‘Now, Poppy, 2, has just one sleep a day, I make sure it’s at a time that suits me. I choose 1-3pm – after the morning activity and lunch, but before going out for tea.’ Other mums keep nap time early. ‘Jack, 18 months, is growing outof his mid-morning sleep,’ says Susie, ‘and the only way to guarantee that nap is to get in the car and drive. If I don’t get him to nap, then he sleeps too late and won’t go to bed in the evening.’

Changing tactics

Arabella also decided to change her nap strategy and get Ellie to sleep somewhere other than a sling. ‘We’d go to a toddler group in the morning, have lunch, walk until she dropped off in the pram, then go home. She’d sleep for two hours. I could work setting up my new website Natural Nursery, and I finally got to go to the loo without Ellie sitting on my lap!’

2 to 3 years

This is when the nap – that peaceful lull in a chaotic day – begins to disappear

Cheers or tears?

Some mums love the freedom the end of napping brings. ‘I can plan things now,’ says Priti, mum to Sonny, 2½. ‘Toddler music at 2pm? No problem. A whole day out? Great. No planning my life around one hour of sleep!’

Others, however, mourn the loss of the nap. ‘I loved nap time. It gave me head space,’ says Carrie. ‘Now that Isabel’s almost 3, she never naps. By bedtime I’m frantic!’

Wakey, wakey!

Annabelle wanted all her children, now 8, 5 and 3, to stop napping by 2.

‘I was paranoid they wouldn’t sleep at night, when I was desperate for adult time and a glass of wine! So I admit – guiltily – to prodding them in the pushchair to keep them awake.’ She also restricted daytime activities. ‘I refused invitations to Sunday lunch because they’d sleep on the drive back and be up until 10pm. My sanity relied on toddlers crashing out at 7pm.’

Keep the sleep

But many children, like Naima, 2, keep napping beyond their second birthday. Mum Angela likes it. ‘It’s a welcome break! On the few occasions she hasn’t napped, she’s a pain for the rest of the day.’ Angela restricts her day to make sure Naima does nap. ‘Because Naima won’t sleep anywhere else, we have to be in the house at lunchtime. But at least she’s happy for the rest of the day.’

Tired and emotional?

When naps disappear, the challenge is coping with those cranky moods (and your toddler will be a bit gripey too!). ‘There’s an awkward period when your child may be tired and grumpy late in the afternoons,’ says Annette. ‘Include quiet periods, when you both sit down with a snack and story to re-charge batteries.’

3 to 4 years

Even little ones need daytime downtime, though most no longer need to have a nap

Time out

‘This is an active phase of learning,’ says Annette. ‘Pre-school takes a lot of adapting to. Build quiet times into the day. They’ll enjoy the time to process all they’re learning.’ And don’t over-timetable their days, says Lucinda. ‘Jessica, 4, doesn’t need a nap, but I put her in her bedroom for two hours for “quiet time”. She plays and looks at books, but knows she doesn’t come out until I get her.’

Zzzzzz!

As for me, even my 5-year-old still naps whenever he’s tired. Damp garden, wooden floor, at a birthday party – no problem! It’s bliss.

Mums’ stories

‘I run my own business, so I need Aiyana, 2, to nap to do some work. We curl up reading stories, then she drops off, leaving me with clear work time.’ Ritu, 34

‘Joshua, 1½, has a nap when I study for my masters degree. When he slept twice a day, the morning nap was for long baths, relaxation and reading. I miss them!’ Liz, 24

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‘I work full time, so at the weekend, when Verity, 2, is tired at 1pm, we settle on the sofa. She sleeps for 2½ hours. I get nothing done but it’s time just for us.’ Joanna, 28

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