How to find downtime when your kid won’t nap

The religion all parents practice: the Worship of the Nap. Naptime equals quiet time, get-things-done time, you time. But what do you do if your kid doesn't nap? Or "catnaps" in short intervals?

I had one of those. My son napped for 30 minutes per day when he was little. Perhaps we made rookie mistakes about helping him "put himself to sleep," but the kid just had a hard time of it. Which means, so did I.

And so does Sabrina. On Twitter:

Tweet to @parenthacks: Someone please write Top 10 Ways to Get Downtime With a Tot That Does Not Nap. I am going crazy.

Oh, I feel your pain, Sabrina. Those are crazymaking days. Back then, the stroller was my best friend. Rain or shine I'd plop Luke into the stroller, walk, and make calls on my cell phone. Or I'd time a long drive to occur right around naptime, then park and read a book.

Parenthackers responded to Sabrina's plea:

  • take a drive
  • take a walk with the stroller
  • pop in a video (or record a show or two), make sure your child is seated safely, and nap while he watches
  • bring him into the bedroom and let him play quietly with "calm" toys while you rest
  • get a babysitter!
  • alternately, arrange a babysitting swap so you can have kid-free time at home

How do you find some downtime when your baby or toddler doesn't nap?

Thank you to @CibaArthur, @hilaryfoster, @jodaleg, @rscfp, @munsonsmith, @mommyenfrance, @monben and @rozanna_niatzi for your responses. Jump in the conversation or ask your own question: follow @parenthacks on Twitter and/or "like" the Parent Hacks Facebook page.

Related: Need to lie down on the job? Play Tattoo Parlor!


  1. jprince says

    Drive through your favorite drink stop & then go to the hardware/home improvement store & spend some time in the lighting & fans section… You can windowshop while they are captivated with the lights.

  2. says

    I’ve been blessed with three nappers, but they rarely nap simultaneously.

    I try to give them something novel to do that is engrossing and doesn’t require a lot of supervision or assistance.

    I’ll set out a cup of uncooked rice, containers, and kitchen utensils (funnels, spoons, egg separater, tea ball, etc.) and let them play at the kitchen table for a while (the toddler is strapped in to her booster).

    Similarly, playdough easily engrosses them- and works well as long as I’m in the kitchen with them.

    We have a paint with water toy (Buddha Board, AquaDoodle) that my oldest loves. He also can spend an hour playing with Colorforms on the large span of the fridge and dishwasher. We haven’t introduced these to the 2 year old yet (because she’ll spread them all over the house), but I’m sure she’ll be a big fan.

    They watch tv as well. We have Netflix streaming, so they can get shows we like (Blue’s Clues, Dinosaur Train, Busytown Mysteries, etc.) on demand.

    It’s hard to find down time as a full time caregiver. One friend found a reliable older kid (tween) she hires to come play with her four very young kids a couple times a week. She’s present throughout, but is able to get a lot of work done around the house. She also takes her helper with her for local outings (parks, etc.).

  3. says

    We don’t call it “nap.” That is the N word and we do not like it at all. LOL. So it’s a “rest.” Many times she doesn’t actually sleep at all, but she will play quietly in her room for an hour or so. Plenty of time to watch an episode of my favorite show while cleaning up or squeezing in some time on the exercise bike.

  4. says

    Just spitballing here, because my 2 year old still naps for me, but I’ve also noticed him playing in his crib for long periods of time either before he falls asleep or after he wakes up. He just talks and sings and jumps, etc. If you have a toddler who will stay put in their crib (I know, a big variable) maybe you can train them to play in their crib (or for older kids, their rooms) with books, toys, etc. I am very interested in hearing others’ ideas.

    My SIL had to commute for her job, so her baby/toddler learned to nap in the car on the way to her job/his babysitter. On the days when she didn’t work, he’d still nap in the car so she’d park the car and work on her laptop (she’s a teacher and writer).

  5. says

    My four-year-old hasn’t napped in awhile. When my two-year-old takes her nap, I let him watch the tv shows we record for him. Then I can have some downtime too.

  6. Zonker says


    make a pile of catalogs for your toddler to peruse. Give them some sticky flags to put next to their favorites.

    Another good book that my non-reading toddler loves to look at is a cookbook for decorating cupcakes. She loves looking at the fantastic cupcakes (dogs, monsters, butterflies)!

  7. says

    Great list! We struggle with this as well. If our toddler naps he doesn’t sleep through the night. If he doesn’t nap, neither do I and I work until 2am some nights. I shouldn’t feel like a bad parent for sticking him in his bouncy seat for 30-45 minutes, should I?

  8. Liz Busby says

    We do “quiet music time” to encourage napping. 2-year-old must stay in his bed, in the dark, quietly listening to music for 30 minutes. When the music ends, he’s free to get up and play with his toys until quiet time is over. But about half the time he falls asleep.

    Oh, also? Put a child lock (door knob cover) on the inside of the door. That gets the message across really fast. :D

  9. Lisa G says

    We also call it quiet time. She doesn’t have to nap, she just has to be quiet. It’s like closing time at the bar, “you don’t have to go home, you just can’t stay here.” :-)

    It’s not nearly as much down time, if she’s up there goofing around, but it’s better than nothing.

    I also try to do something really exerting – for her – every day. It makes the odds that she actually will nap, better.

  10. Lisa G says

    No, you should not. Look, you are already working your tail off.

    And anyone who is worried about being a bad parent, isn’t. Sure, we all do things that might make others cringe, but at least we’re not all smoking while pregnant like our parents did. ;-) Our kids will turn out fine.

  11. Anitra says

    This is _exactly_ what we do with our two-almost-three-year-old. She started really fighting “nap” time when we moved her to a bed instead of a crib. I was pregnant with #2, and in exasperation one day, I said “I don’t care if you nap, but you need to stay in bed and be quiet! MOMMY needs a nap.”

    Quiet time stuck. For us, it’s about 2-3 hours. Most days she naps. But when she doesn’t, it’s not a problem (as long as she is quiet).

  12. heather feather says

    I have a non sleeper too 14 months..hasnt napped for more than 40 minutes since week 3 of life. Soem days its 20 minutes..some days nothign and then she wakes ever night 3-4 times. I am partially disabled (as in I have a number of ruptured disc in my spine and several pinched nerves from a car accident) I never feel good becasue I cant get the rest my body needs. And obviously cant take strong pain medication with a toddler to care for. Im a full time stay at home mom (my fella also has physical limitations but pulls his weight helpign me when he is home)..we just moved so I dont know any one around town, I cant drive BC of my condition and I cant afford a baby sitter..Im in a tough spot!! and sure am glad that I found some of these ideas. Its hard enough for me to just function and with out rest its bad. I have actually been wondering if my child has a sleep disorder. Maybe insomnia. ??? or night terrors..she is very active and happy (when she naps a little) I wouldnt cahnge a thing. But a nap would be nice.