I might sound like a crazy person for admitting this, but one of my biggest worries about having 2 under 2 was how to get a baby to nap with a toddler around.
There are a lot of other things I could have stressed about – things like, for example – how the heck I’d get out of the house in 6 inches of snow when neither kid could walk on their own… but no, for me, the major stressor was naps.
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If you’re here looking for the super fast answer to the 2 under 2 nap struggle, it’s this:
Consistency with naps, multiple loud sound machines, giving your toddler your attention, and car -naps for the desperate days.
For more details on how I make it work, read on!
From the day my first was born, he’d been a bit of a sleep disaster.
I had worked so so so hard on getting him to nap regularly. I am a firm believer that naps are SO important for kids in their first two years (and possibly longer). I believe well-rested kids are happy kids… so I WORKED for those naps.
Sometimes spending hours each day – for over a year – putting him to sleep.
TEACHING him to nap.
And by the time his sister was born (when he was 17 months old), he was a champion napper… going down each day for two hours without a fight.
I couldn’t help but wonder… HOW will I get the new baby to nap with a toddler around!? And How will I get my toddler to nap with a BABY around?! (I still laid down with him to put him to sleep.)
I knew I wouldn’t have the same luxury of spending hours putting her to sleep over and over again – because HE was there, in the house… making noise and needing my attention.
How would I ever teach the baby to nap?
What if my toddler wakes up the baby on purpose?
What if neither of my kids nap and I just lose my mind because naps are so important for my sanity?
(I’d like to pretend that I didn’t have real panic attacks about this, but being honest is always the best policy.)
It’s funny looking back on this now, because a year and a half has passed – as I type this I can hear my almost-three-year-old rolling around on his bed as he starting transitioning away from a daily nap… and his sister is sound asleep in her bed.
I’ve had two under two successfully napping (98% of the time) for 18 months.
If you’re struggling with the whole idea of how to get a baby to nap with a toddler in the house, or even worried that the baby will wake the toddler constantly, here’s my best tips for the sleep situation with two under two!
how to get a baby to nap with a toddler around
MOST babies are easy-ish to put to sleep when they are new.
And the more you encourage good newborn sleep habits, the better they WILL sleep in the long run.
I honestly think that one of the biggest things I did wrong with my first was that I didn’t put him to sleep ENOUGH. If your newborn wants to sleep 20 hours per day, LET THEM.
So the new baby did a lot of sleeping.
I stayed at home as much as possible so our sleep routines were well established. I didn’t want to be entirely nap trapped, so I wiggled our schedule around until I had one of the baby’s naps overlapping the toddler’s nap – and then I was CONSISTENT with that schedule.
I was conscious from the start that I didn’t want her in the habit of being held ALL THE TIME to sleep, so I made sure to lay her down in her bed after she nursed to sleep.
For most tiny babies in the first few weeks, they’ll nurse to sleep and sleep through anything and the whole “getting the baby to nap with a toddler in the house” is not such a big deal.
It’s after the four-month sleep regression that things get tricky!
Once you notice your baby waking up to noises or having a harder time going down, this is what we do to make sleepy-time for two kids under two happen:
1. TALK to your toddler
I do think that the success or failure of naps for 2 kids under 2 hinges mostly (unfortunately) on the attitude of your toddler.
If you make your toddler feel included, and let them “help” with the baby, chances are much better that they won’t act out to get your attention.
Make sure they understand that they are HELPING you by being quiet and letting you put the baby down.
It might not be so easy if you’re in a season of “terrible twos”, but I believe the terrible twos are usually a reflection of some things that need to be changed in your toddler’s world – so if your toddler is deliberately sabotaging naptime, you might need to be taking steps towards dealing with your toddler’s attitude.
But, hopefully, that’s not the case for you, and it will mostly just be a matter of getting consistent and establishing a routine and investing in those sound machines!
2. Establish a routine
I am the most anti-routine person I know… but our day revolves around the 1:30 pm nap.
Every day around “sleepy time” I announce that we will have a snack and get ready for sleepy-time, and remind them that sleepy time is coming every 3-5 minutes for the whole 15 minutes. I don’t spring a nap on anyone, ever!
(Of course, originally all the talk was more for the toddler’s benefit, but as the baby has grown it’s become important for her too.)
3. Take the baby to a different room to put them to sleep.
This was REALLY nerve-wracking for me because my toddler was only about 20 months old when I had to start leaving him alone to put his sister to bed. But baby wasn’t nursing to sleep anymore, and this was basically my only choice.
Create a safe space to leave your toddler – this means child-proofing properly, and thinking critically about what they might get into when left alone for a few minutes. It might go beyond the basics of outlets and toilets and drawers in the kitchen.
If they are climbers, don’t be afraid to box them in a room with a baby gate! If you don’t want to install a permanent gate, use a compression gate. (And make sure that tall furniture is fixed to the wall.)
TALK all the time about the things that are dangerous, and be firm with “no”. Your toddler is not too young to understand rules! (I’m not saying you can count on all kids to follow the rules, but for most, knowing boundaries will help.)
TALK about why you are leaving them alone for a few minutes – mommy has to put the baby to sleep! – and what they should do if they need you.
I say “I’m taking sister to put her to sleep. You watch the show for 15 minutes, and then mommy will come and put you to sleep. If you need mommy, just call for me. I’m right in that room. Try to be very quiet unless you really need mommy!”
4. Use the TV or a tablet/phone in child-mode to entertain your toddler
(I know so many parents are anti-screen, but I believe life is about compromises, and the screens are a compromise I make!)
If you DON’T use screens at all except at this time, this can work REALLY well!
The TV show will even become part of your toddler’s”routine”- which is really important when it comes to getting your TODDLER to sleep.
After a few weeks of this, when I’d come out from putting his sister down, my oldest would see me and say “sleepy-time!”
There were a handful of times over the past year where my toddler yelled for me, or came in to get me.
There were no real emergencies, maybe once he had to pee and once or twice his show stopped (was at the end of a netflix series- now I check for this haha).
5. If YOU think it’s safe to do so, consider giving your toddler a snack
And I DON’T mean something like grapes or anything else that might make you think “choking hazard”.
These melt-in-your-mouth type baby snacks feel safe to me, and again, save these as a special part of this routine – DON’T bring them out at other times!
Now that my toddler is older, he eats a granola bar while I put his sister to sleep.
6. Sound machines are your best friend
We have a sound machine in the room with each kid, AND an extra one between the rooms in the hallway.
This helps muffle sharp sounds from the other side of the door – and yes, it was well well worth the extra money I had to spend to buy the extra sound machine.
But not just any sound machine between the rooms – this tiny travel-sized one – because it is seriously louder than you will even want it to be! (You can turn it down.)
We run them at night too, and then we don’t have to worry about baby waking up siblings, or the toddler waking the baby when he excitedly stomps down the hall (you know.)
7. Once the baby is asleep, take the toddler to nap
When I get back from putting the baby to sleep, my toddler knows the next step in our routine is nap!
I lay down with him for a while, and he goes to sleep – when the baby was really little, I took the video monitor in with me and kept it on silent so I could see her if she woke up. (If the room wasn’t nearby, I’d probably leave it on the lowest level.)
8. When all else fails, have your back up plan ready
Some days things just don’t WORK like they’re supposed to.
And it’s frustrating, but it’s also just one day.
9 times out of ten, the above works for me to get my kids napping… but during the sleep regressions, or during particularly bad bouts of teething, or when someone rings the doorbell and ruins everything – when the nap just isn’t happening the way I want it to, we do have a backup plan.
For us, that’s going for a drive.
My baby can’t stay awake in the car even if she wants to, and she conks right out.
There have been tricky seasons where we’ve had to take a couple of drives per week, but for the most part, it’s a very rare thing.
By this point, we have our “routine” for drive-naps too.
My toddler knows exactly what to expect – and it doesn’t mess with our system.
If you don’t drive, the back-up plan could be a walk in a double stroller, or cuddling up together to watch a movie until the kids pass out.
The most important thing is to remember that it’s just one day – and keep consistent with the routine tomorrow.