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What to Do When Your Toddler Cries at Nap Time. Ten common reasons toddlers cry before nap time and what to do each time.
After going through all of the effort to teach your baby to sleep well, it can be unsettling and unnerving if your toddler starts to cry at nap time.
While solving a baby’s nap issues can be tricky, it is more straight forward than solving a toddler’s nap issues. The older children get, the more complex and individual they become. In this post, I discuss various reasons a toddler might start crying before nap time and how to respond to each scenario.
For this post, I am assuming your toddler has been a good sleeper in the past and was taught and expected to sleep independently already. The crying is different than how things have been in life for your toddler up to this point.
Toddler is Crying Because of a Sleep Regression
Since you have made it this far into your parenting journey, a sleep regression is nothing new to you. You know all about sleep regressions and what they mean. This is when your toddler suddenly stops sleeping well and seemingly for no reason. If this is a literal regression, there is nothing you can do but wait it out.
At this point you should know your toddler well enough to have a good idea of how to respond and how not to respond during a sleep regression. Does your toddler need to just blow off some steam for a minute before settling down? If yes, just let her be. Does your toddler tend to do better if you go in and address her somewhat? If yes, go in.
If you aren’t sure, start by not going in and see what happens. If your toddler settles down and goes to sleep 10-20 minutes, then you know not going in was the best idea. If your toddler does not settle down, then try going in and see if that is better.
Toddler is Crying Because of Teeth
Teeth can hurt for babies, but they can really hurt for toddlers. The cuspid teeth, or canines, can really cause a lot of pain. This is typically right around 18 months old. There are also first molars and second molars all in the toddler months (see a teething chart here). Even a child who had no problems teething as a baby can have a painful experience with any of these teeth. It can be painful enough your toddler will not be able to sleep.
If teeth are causing sleep troubles and crying, you will notice it not only at nap time, but during waketime, also.
When my children are teething, I give some painkiller either right at the start of nap or 20 minutes before nap if the teeth are really painful. I usually only need to do this for a few days and then the pain lessens enough the child is okay without medication.
You can read up on some Surviving Teething tricks here.
Toddler is Crying Because of Too Much Stimulation
A toddler can handle more stimulation than your baby could, but overstimulation can still happen. This is especially true if sleep has been lessened as of late, your toddler has been busy with a lot of activities, and your routine has been disrupted.
If your toddler is crying at nap because of overstimulation, then you will need to go one of two ways depending on your toddlers disposition. You might leave your toddler to cry for a bit to blow that steam off, settle down, and go to sleep. You might also need to go in and help your toddler calm down and get to a relaxed state before falling asleep for the nap.
Read more about Overstimulation for Toddlers here.
Toddler is Crying Because of Too Little Stimulation
Even more common than overstimulation for toddlers is understimulation. Your toddler might be crying simply because he/she is not tired enough to sleep. There was not enough physical and/or mental activity during playtime to lead your toddler to need this nap right now.
If this is the case for your toddler, I would get her out of bed for a bit and get the child more worn out for nap time before starting nap again. Also, take note of this and work to add in stimulation to your days in the future. If your toddler has dropped the morning nap recently, you might not know what to do all morning long to provide the right about of stimulation. Read up on How to Fill The Morning Time Slot When the Nap is Dropped here.
Read more about this at Importance of Exercise and Stimulation here and at How to Solve Sleep Problems for Toddlers and Preschoolers.
Toddler is Crying Because Nap Was Not Timed Correctly
You might think that now that your child is a toddler, you do not need to be so careful about timing naps. For some toddlers this may be true, but for many, this idea is fully false. Some toddlers can be about as sensitive to the start time of a nap that your toddler will not sleep if the nap was not timed correctly.
If nap started too late, it might be hard for your toddler to sleep. You might need to give your toddler some safe books to have in bed and let your toddler look at books in hopes he/she will tire enough to calm down and fall asleep. You might need to go in and calm your toddler before returning toddler to the crib or bed.
Read more about How to Time Naps for Toddlers here.
Toddler is Crying Because Waketime Length is Off
This is very similar to the section above. Your toddler will still have an approximate waketime length just as he did as a baby. The most important thing for you to do is focus on having a consistent start time to nap each day AND a consistent start time to the day each day. Then the waketime length will be the same each day.
If your toddler is crying because waketime length was off, be sure you are diligent about being consistent at naptime and morning wake up time.
Read all about Optimal Waketime Length for Toddlers here (complete with infographic).
Toddler is Crying Because Routine Is Not Optimal
Be sure you have a routine before nap. This helps trigger sleep in your baby and helps your baby unwind and understand it is time to sleep. This does not need to be a long routine, but it needs to be consistent and right for your toddler.
Toddler is Crying Because a Nap Needs to Drop
Your toddler might be crying simply because he no longer needs two naps each day and does not feel tired. If this is the case, you might get your toddler out of bed today and move on to dropping naps. Sometimes you drop a nap and sometimes it is a weaning process (see Dropping a Nap: A Weaning Process).
Read my Dropping the Morning Nap Guide for help on navigating this transition. Once you drop that nap, you can turn that morning nap time into your new time slot for Independent Playtime.
Toddler is Crying Because Something Changed
If your toddler is crying before nap and you cannot pinpoint why, think through life and decide what has changed right before your toddler started crying before naps. Maybe you dropped a nap. Maybe you switched up the routine. Maybe the seasons changed and your toddler needs to be dressed differently for sleep. Maybe you just moved. Maybe the sun has dramatically changed for nap time.
If your toddler is crying because of a change, get things back the way they were before the crying started and see if that makes it so your toddler goes back to just sleeping peacefully.
Read more about my process of figuring out what has changed in Problem Solving Tip: What Has Changed?
Toddler is Crying Because He/She Does Not Want to Nap
As toddlers get older, they can more and more decide they just do not want to nap. As you talk to parents, you will hear over and over about how their child refused to nap as a two year old so that is when they dropped all naps. This is a situation when mom gets to decide, not the toddler. If your toddler does not want to nap, it is because your toddler has other things in mind, Your toddler does not know if she needs a nap or not.
Do not drop the nap. You can read here to know when a child is ready to drop to no naps. It isn’t at age two or younger.
If you find your toddler refusing to nap, read my post What to Do When Your Toddler Refuses to Take a Nap. If you are having trouble with getting out of bed, see Toddler/Child Getting Out of Bed. If you have twins refusing to nap, read all about What to Do When Your Twin Toddlers Won’t Nap.
There are a variety of reasons your toddler might be crying at nap time right now. Look over this list and decide which is the most obvious. Address that one issue (just choose one!). If that doesn’t fix it within a few days, choose the next most likely and work through the list until you find your answer!
Related Toddler Sleep Posts on This Blog:
- Two Year Old Sleep Regression
- 2 Year Old Sleep Problems
- Overstimulation for Toddlers
- Importance of Exercise and Stimulation
- How to Solve Sleep Problems for Toddlers and Preschoolers
- How to Time Naps for Toddlers
- Optimal Waketime Length for Toddlers
- Sample Nap Routines
- Sleep Routine Ideas
- Surviving Teething
- Dropping a Nap: A Weaning Process
- Dropping the Morning Nap (from 2 to 1 naps): Transition Time
- Problem Solving Tip: What Has Changed
- What to Do When Your Toddler Refuses to Take a Nap
- Toddler/Child Getting Out of Bed
For more help on naps, get my eBook The Babywise Mom Nap Guide: