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Toddler Nap Rage Is Totally a Thing

Photograph by Twenty20

My two-and-a-half year old is the absolute sweetest. He's friendly, charming and has the most adorably endearing, gravelly man voice (think Johnny Cash in toddler form). He can almost always be found with a twinkle in his eye and an impish grin on his face. I almost can't get enough of his sweetness.

Almost.

Because there's that one time of day when he turns into a raging monster and that time is right after waking up from his afternoon nap.

Nap rage my friends... it's a very real thing.

These afternoon rage-fests started somewhere around the time he was a year-and-a-half and were characterized by daily meltdowns of epic proportions. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, yelling and screaming, and so much clinginess I thought I would die.

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At first I thought it was just a phase. I consoled myself with the wishful thinking that he would surely get over it soon, but here were are a year later and it's still a struggle. Thankfully, over time, I've learned some tips and tricks that make our post-nap times much more bearable.

1. Start to wake him up slowly

You know that phrase "never wake a sleeping baby"? Well, I've found that life is actually much more pleasant when I do wake up my son. When his naps last for too long, he tends to get grumpy and disoriented—especially during the winter months when he goes to sleep when it's light out and wakes up when it's dark. Now I make the waking process more gradual if he's been asleep for awhile. I'll go open the door to his room and turn down the sound machine a bit. Usually the noises of the rest of the house will slowly wake him and things go much more smoothly.

2. Incentive

One of the best ways to ensure that our post-nap times are happier is to create an incentive for my son. Something we've been doing as a regular practice is a daily tea time after nap. If he rests during nap time, afterward we have tea and a small snack. I'll remind him about it when he goes down for his nap and it's often the first thing he says when he wakes up. "Mama! I'm awake, let's have tea!" It could also be playing with play dough, painting, or buildling with Legos... really, anything fun to look forward to will do the trick.

Sometimes the best thing I can do to bring my son out of his funk is to ignore his grumpiness and distract him.

3. Always have a snack ready

Speaking of tea time... ALWAYS have a snack ready. I truly think that a good chunk of the time my son's nap-raging is the result of low blood sugar. I offer him something with a mix of protein and carbs as a snack right away if possible. An apple and almond butter is one of our favorites.

4. Don't ask questions

As adults, when we see someone upset, our first instinct is to figure out what's wrong and we typically do that by asking questions. "What's wrong sweetheart? Did you have a bad dream? Does your tummy hurt? Are you hungry?" I've learned that doing this only succeeds in making my little one even more upset. In his sleepy stupor, he is unwilling/unable to answer and it only makes him more grumpy so I don't ask questions.

5. Distraction

Sometimes the best thing I can do to bring my son out of his funk is to ignore his grumpiness and distract him. Sometimes that means turning on a show or asking him to help me open the FedEx package that showed up while he was sleeping. Sometimes I ask him to help me unload the dryer. I've realized that when he gets too focused on feeling upset it only fuels the drama of the situation, so distraction is key.

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6. Get outside

This goes along with #5 and the idea of distraction, but sometimes when I sense the meltdown is upon us I simply scoop up my little one and march us both right out to the backyard or for a walk to the mailbox to check the mail. There's just something about being in nature that is universally calming—especially for kids!

7. If all else fails, just snuggle!

Unfortunately, there are times when despite my best efforts I simply can't bring my little one out of his post-naptime funk and when this happens you've just gotta hug it out. Just giving my son some time to be upset while holding him close is often just what he needs. Depending on the kid, the opposite could also be true and maybe some space would be most helpful.

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