This month I wanted to address a question that I get from past clients months after their little ones learned to be an amazing sleeper…toddlers playing in the crib instead of sleeping. If you are a Dream Factory Sleep Solutions veteran, this might sound like something you’ve experienced. If you’re not, this might sound like the craziest thing ever. If you have a child who has never slept well, the idea that they might be playing in their crib is probably pretty crazy to you, but trust me, it happens. For children who sleep well, can sleep independently, feel secure in their crib and are happy to go there when it is sleep time, you will find that there will be periods in your child’s life where they are having a party in that crib all by themselves.
For many of my clients this specifically starts to happen around nap time. The common
complaint is that they put their child down for their nap, but instead of falling asleep within a few minutes like they usually do, their little one decides to have a party in there sometimes for an hour or more, before they finally fall asleep. The confused parents write me to ask, “What should I do? He is in there playing and he is supposed to be napping (or he is supposed to be going to sleep at night). I don’t know what to do? Should I give him a consequence for not sleeping? Should I stop putting him down for naps?”
My advice is definitely not to consequence this kind of behavior. It is most often a developmental phase that your child is going through. It often happens around the eighteen month to two year mark. At that stage, it has a lot to do with language acquisition. They are learning so much at such a rapid pace, they need time to process that.
Usually parents say their children are just laying in bed babbling, singing, or talking. That is part of the process of just organizing all this new information. Try not to panic about it. If your child is in there for an hour, hour and a half, shouting, and singing, and having fun, yes, they didn’t sleep, but it was still a break. You got a break. They got a break. It is still a rest because they are in a quiet, dark environment so they are not being over-stimulated and they obviously aren’t running laps in the crib, so it is a nice physical rest as well. Once you are certain your little one is not going to sleep, you can just call it nap time. Go in, get your child out, and proceed with your day.
If he does not sleep you may need to move bedtime a little earlier to try and compensate for that, but try not to panic. If you stick with your usual routine and rules around sleeping, playing in the crib usually fades out in a week or two, and then they go back to sleeping well. Developmentally speaking, your child needs some time to play, talk, and practice his or her new skills, and a quiet crib gives them the perfect opportunity to do just that. Give it a week or two and see if it goes away on its own. If it doesn’t, then you may need to look at tweaking the naptime by giving your child a bit more awake time (moving nap later) or eliminating the daytime nap altogether.
When toddlers are ready to drop the nap, many will still happily take a nap if one is offered. After all, their body is in the habit of sleeping at the same time every day. However, the trouble comes at bedtime. All of a sudden bedtime is a struggle when they can’t fall asleep until 9:00 p.m. If this pattern goes on for three to four weeks, then you may want to consider dropping the nap and transitioning to quiet time (most children drop naps closer to age 3). But, if playing in the crib has only been going on for a few days or even a week, then just don’t worry about it. You can’t force your child to sleep, all you can do is give him or her the opportunity.
There is no need to get upset with your child. Just remind yourself that you are giving him ample opportunity to take a great nap, get to bed on time and sleep a perfect night. You have given him all the skills he needs to be an excellent sleeper, and the rest is up to him. If he wants to play for an hour before he passes out, fine. If he wants to play through the whole nap, that is ok because he needs that time for his development.
If all this sounds too good to be true because you can’t even lay your child in his or her crib without a fit, please use the link below to book a FREE evaluation call with me to find out how Dream Factory Sleep Solutions can help your little one love their crib and sleep better!
And if what you are REALLY struggling with is keeping your toddler in his crib, click here for another great resource: Mom Loves Best - How to Keep Your Toddler in Their Crib