Tell me if this is familiar. Your child is playing a game, but it’s naptime. You tell them to get ready for a nap. You even give them a countdown to expect when it’s time to finish playing, but when it comes time for a nap, they throw a fit. “But I’m building my tower!” “I’m in the middle of my game!” My daughter is only 2 years old, but this is all too familiar in our house. I’d honestly never thought about this problem or how to fix it until we were watching a Daniel Tiger episode one night.
In this episode, Teacher Harriet is getting the class to lay down for quiet time. None of the kids wanted to because they were playing with their toys. Teacher Harriet explains to them that our bodies need time to rest so that we can play later. She reassures the children that their toys will be there when they get done with their naps or quiet time. This got me thinking about how we can apply this to our children’s daily lives. After some research, I’ve come up with a few ideas.
#1 LEAVE THE TOYS WHERE THEY ARE
One of the biggest issues we have with my daughter is that she wants all of her toys in the same place she left them in when she wakes up. Typically I use the times when she is napping to clean up around the house. This usually means I put up the toys that she has left out throughout the day. There are a few options if this is your struggle. The first option is to just simply leave the toys there. Is your child building blocks when nap time comes? Leave them exactly where they are. Assure your child that the blocks will be there as soon as they wake up. Playing a game on the tablet? Have your child pause the game and leave it in a specific place. Don’t touch it until they wake up.
It can be super upsetting to have been working so hard on something and find that someone messed up all your hard work while you were away. Imagine you’re doing a puzzle. Probably one of those 1000 piece ones (those are my favorite). While working on it, you have to go do something, maybe some laundry or take a bath. When you come back you find that your partner has put the whole thing back in the box so now you have to start back from the beginning. How upset would you be? I’d be absolutely furious. Our kids feel those same feelings when we clean up whatever they were working on.
It might take a few times of doing this before your child is ready to trust that you won’t put it away, especially if that’s what you normally do. If the mess doesn’t bother you and you don’t need the space for a while, just leave it.
#2 HAVE THEM HELP PICK IT UP OR MOVE IT BEFORE THEY TAKE A NAP
An alternate option is to have your child help you move the toys out of the way or clean them up entirely. This option gives your child a little bit of control and peace in the situation. They know exactly where their things are and who touched them.
When nap time or quiet time comes around, have them find a good spot to move the toys out of the way. Let them go plug in the tablet. Have them put away all the blocks. Do whatever works best for you guys in this moment. Some days might be a day where you just need to put them to the side. On other days you might be able to clean everything up. Just be flexible, and let your child have some of the control over it.
I’m not saying that every day will go perfectly. I’m actually telling you that they won’t. Some days you’ll have resistance over it. There might be a few tantrums or tears. This leads me to my next point.
#3 GIVE AMPLE WARNINGS ON TIME LEFT TO PLAY
This is HUGE with toddlers and preschool age children. As adults, we can understand time much better than our small children. We know our schedules. Children don’t. They don’t really understand that we take naps every day at 2pm.
About 15-20 minutes before nap time (or longer if you think you need it), give your child a heads up by saying something like, “Hey buddy, we have about 15 minutes left before it’s time to get ready for our nap. I’ll let you know when we have 5 minutes left, so we can figure out what we’re going to do about our toys.” If your child is old enough to know numbers, show them a digital clock or set a timer that they can see. The clock works well with my 2.5 year old. We will tell her, “See how the clock says 12:55? When it says 1:00, it will be time to clean up.” When the time comes, we’ll ask her if she remembers what numbers we are looking for. Usually she remembers which is very helpful.
Hold the boundaries on this. You make the decision on when nap time is, but your child makes the decision on what to do with the toys. Don’t ask questions like “Are you ready for a nap?” Say it. Say “It’s time to get ready to take a nap. Would you like to put your toys away or just move them out of the way?” Of course there will be resistance to this at first, but eventually, your child will learn the boundaries.
#4 FIND WHAT HELPS YOUR CHILD REST
I have found that I have a little bit of a different opinion than most on this topic. There is a disclaimer here. When I say this, I am talking about children 2 years old and up.
My 2.5 year old brings a few books and stuffed animals to bed with her because they help her calm down and fall asleep. Doing this has helped her fall asleep so much easier. Now, her room is super dark so she can’t really see the books to read them, but she pretends. She does have a Hatch night light which gives off a dim red light. After we put her down, she’ll sing to her animals and pretend to read them books. She falls asleep much quicker than if she just had to lay there by herself with nothing to do. Honestly, when is the last time you just got in bed and fell right asleep?
While none of these tips are a magic fix or miracle worker, they should help if you stay consistent with them and hold your boundaries. Toddlers are so tricky sometimes, but I love them. I keep telling my husband that I feel like this age is my absolute favorite. Despite the tantrums and attitudes, I love how rewarding it is. Let me know if these tips helped you!
Still struggling with your little one’s sleep? Let’s talk about how I can help you. Click here to book a free 15-minute discovery call to chat.
Need help but don’t feel like you need a full plan? Click here to book a mini consult with me. These consults are $30. You will answer a short questionnaire and have the opportunity to ask up to 3 questions. I will film a video response for you as well as email you a summary to keep within 48 hours.