Working at home or needing to get stuff done is a challenge with a one-year-old, a baby, and a toddler on different nap schedules. As a mom, daycare teacher, and home daycare owner, I know that nap time is invaluable and a needed mental and physical break in the day.
Experts stipulate that most babies settle down into 2 daytime naps, mid-morning and afternoon.
Tips to get your baby and toddler on the same nap schedule
There is no secret formula, but here is a list of things to put into place to build a consistent unified nap time.
- Active Play: Burn off energy
- Keep a flexible Schedule
- Find the Nap Window
- Establish a Routine
- Repeat the Routine
- Incorporate Quiet Time
Practice learning activities that help them expend their energy
Young toddlers learn best when a physical activity acts as a connection to the brain, for their brain development. Physical learning helps the brain to grow.
The best choice for kids to expend their energy is outdoors. Toddlers can walk, help push the stroller or run to the next driveway. For longer walks, bring a wagon or stroller for both kids, but make sure you're toddler walks before getting a ride. A walk to the end of the block and back stimulates both the baby and toddler and burns off energy. Walking can also be a learning activity, talk about the colors of houses or cars, or the birds singing, or anything else that can be observed.
For inclement weather, physical activity has to happen in the house. Play hide and seek, or have your toddler race down a hallway and back while you are counting or singing the ABCs. Another enrichment activity is to practice positional activities by following directions: run to the door, run to the front of the table, run to the side of the chair. Children are learning where things are located at this age, and incorporating positional locations with live interaction is the easiest way for them to learn this concept.
While the baby may not be walking or literally understanding the learning games you are playing with your toddler, the baby will be stimulated and learning. Both children will be expending energy through these activities.
Keep a schedule of what happens when
When your baby turns a year old, keep a log of the morning schedule you already have. Log the eating activities as a benchmark, and their usual nap times. The schedule doesn't have to be formal, it can be logged as phone notes. The times don't have to be exact, it's the general outline that is the most important. Log this over a 3 day period as a schedule often varies by time with young children.
The informal log might look like this:
- 7- Toddler wakes up
- 730- Toddler breakfast
- Baby wakes up
- 815-Baby eats
- 9-10: snacks for both
- 10- baby nap
- 11:- baby wakes
- 11:15 baby eats
- 12: toddler eats
- 1230: baby nap
- 2-toddler nap
- 1:30 baby wakes up
- 2:30 toddler wakes up
Once you have a routine noted over a three-day course, you will see a pattern. Every family has a natural routine, even if the times vary.
For example, some toddlers stay up until 9 p.m. so they will probably sleep in later than a baby who goes to sleep at 8 p.m. or vice versa. Some toddlers go to sleep at 8 p.m. and some toddlers go to sleep at 10 p.m. so they will naturally wake up earlier or later. Many baby and toddler schedules vary with parents' work hours, parent activities, and mealtimes.
Finding the “Nap Window”
The nap window is the time that both your baby and toddler are asleep. That nap window could be 20 minutes long and both kids are asleep at the same time. If there are not any minutes both children are asleep at the same time, it is likely that a child is waking up when another just falls asleep. This close boundary would be the nap window. What you want to do is expand that window of time.
In the Schedule example above, the Nap Window would be between 1 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.
Expanding the “Nap Window” to sync baby and toddler nap times
Taking into account the natural schedule as a baseline, consider what the perfect schedule would be for you and your children. This will be your flexible goal.
Define the time between after breakfast and snack as the first benchmark block. What are you all doing during this time?
Define the time between snack and lunch as your second benchmark block. The second block is the block you are focusing on. We know that experts agree naptimes should happen between mid-morning and afternoon, but most toddler naps happen after lunchtime.
If the baby is napping his/her mid-morning nap and you can go outside, take the baby to nap in a stroller while you do an outdoor activity with the toddler. If inside, put the baby down for a nap while you play the activities with the toddler inside.
If your baby has difficulty napping with your toddler making noise, that is a separate component and you can get suggestions for that here, to help the baby and toddler nap at the same time.
Adjust the toddler's schedule in 15-minute increments, to match the baby's afternoon naptime. If the baby falls asleep earlier than the toddler in the afternoons, then extend the toddler's playtime.
The most important thing is to make small incremental changes in the morning before nap time, that will change the following activity and naptime to your desired time.
Stay consistent with routine (once you've found the nap window)
Routine allows children to feel secure because they know what to expect.
While babies usually need a morning nap, toddlers don't.
Toddlers can resist going to sleep when the baby is asleep in the afternoons because they like having mom to themselves. So baby's naptime is a great opportunity to spend one on one time with your toddlers
Incorporate Quiet time for a Toddler during Baby's morning naptime
An older child may not need a morning nap when a younger child still needs a morning nap. This is where you incorporate “Quiet time”. The older child has a “quiet time” while the younger child naps. This way, the older child isn't waking up the younger with “loud play”.
It's easier to set up an expectation of children both napping at the same time when naptime is transitioned to quiet time. The younger child may not want to take a nap if he/she knows the older child is playing.
You can read books with your toddler as a downtime activity, and independent quiet free-play can be incorporated as well.
Do the same routine before nap time every day
Make the event the same before naptime as a cue for the baby and toddler:
I.E. Lunch then nap.
5 minutes or so, when they are almost done eating their food, remind them of Naptime.
Incorporate one on one baby time reading books, or with quiet play, for baby's “Quiet Time”.
Either way, you are going to repeat the same activity -the same way- every day.
Babies understand a lot more than they can verbalize, so use the same words and speak clearly to both children, “Naptime is after lunch”, “when we finish lunch we wash our hands then lay down for naptime”.
Even if there is no immediate success, when we are pursuing a synched naptime – we repeat the same process.
Don't expect naps to synchronize immediately. A realistic expectation would be that your baby and toddler nap at the same time once a week if the baby is under a year old. If the baby is a year to 18 months old, then maybe the naps will sync up to 3 times a week.
There are so many variables that affect naps at this age. What you are doing is long-term napping on the same schedule for both siblings. It's important to stay flexible as a parent with young children's schedules.
It's also important for you to be flexible with yourself. The goal is to be consistent, but to expect a consistent and predictable schedule with 2 young children is unrealistic. Unrealistic for ourselves as moms, and unrealistic for our kids. The important thing is to have the expectation of quiet time, the expectation of the baby and toddler sleeping at the same time, be consistent, follow a routine, and a synched naptime will occur eventually. A synched naptime with blips, but overall a synched naptime.