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When 16-month-old Jonah started fighting his afternoon nap, his mom, Kim Stein,* knew what was going on: He was ready to switch from two naps a day to one. “It’s the same thing that happened with my older kid,” says Stein. “He’d happily go down for his morning nap at 9:30 a.m., but then he’d refuse to fall asleep for his second one.”
Most kids drop the second nap when they’re 14 to 18 months old. You’ll know yours is ready when you find her consistently resisting her afternoon snooze.
Just be sure any nap resistance isn’t a hiccup. “You want to give your child a week to 10 days to be sure it’s not related to a milestone,” says Amanda Hudye, founder of child sleep consultancy SleepWell Baby. Learning to walk or run and making a big leap in speech development can all disrupt sleep.
Hudye recommends starting by pushing the first nap of the day forward in half-hour increments. So the 9:30 a.m. nap moves to 10, then to 10:30, and so on, with the goal of moving the nap to 12:30 p.m. You may want to wait a few days between each 30-minute shift so your toddler can adjust.
During the transition, don’t give up the afternoon nap until you get the morning one to 11 a.m., at which point there will more than likely not be time for afternoon nap. “This is where an early bedtime will be needed,” says Hudye. The afternoon nap will get more inconsistent, but Hudye recommends still putting your kid down at about 2:30; he may not sleep, but he should still get some downtime.
At the University of Toronto’s Early Learning Centre daycare, staff take a more fluid approach to the transition, says Rebecca Irvine, an early childhood educator and supervisor. For toddlers under 18 months who are still in the infant room, staff follow each child’s cues, often switching back and forth between one and two naps a day. Eventually, the toddler will settle down into a one-nap pattern. “We try to be as flexible as we can,” says Irvine.
Most kids will take a couple of weeks to about a month to complete the transition, says Hudye, although she warns it will likely take longer if you flip-flop between one and two naps a day.
As you transition, be prepared for a crankier toddler and a few tantrums. When pushing the first nap of the day later, find something to keep him engaged and awake. “Distraction is key,” says Hudye. Take your kid outside, give him a special snack or play a game, for example.
That’s what Stein did when Jonah started his transition. “I’d normally put him down at 10, but one day I just didn’t,” she says. “I took him to a play centre, so he wouldn’t notice how tired he was getting.” A favourite snack helped keep Jonah awake in the car until Stein could get him home and into bed at 11:15 a.m.
Some toddlers will especially struggle around lunchtime, becoming cranky or silly, or refusing to eat. Not sure whether to feed your kid lunch before the nap or after? Pam Edwards, a certified infant and child sleep consultant in Grand Prairie, Alta., says you can split it up—letting him eat both before and after lights out.
Quick snoozes while on the go can also help take the edge off. Emily Webster’s* 16-month-old son, Ben, makes it through the day this way. His home daycare required that he have only one daily nap to match the routine of older toddlers, even though he was only 11 months old when he started there. “Ben often sneaks in a stroller catnap on the way to and from their morning activity,” says Webster.
An early bedtime can also help while you make this transition. Above all, be patient and flexible about finding a schedule and routine that work for you.
If your toddler’s nap schedule is a mess for a bit, prioritize helping her get a good night’s sleep. “Nighttime is when most of the restorative benefits of sleep happen for our children,” says sleep consultant Amanda Hudye. “Daytime sleep is mostly to get our children from morning to bedtime without becoming overtired.”
*Names have been changed