Inside: How to know when to drop the nap diaper for your potty training toddler, and tips to set up the bed for your diaper-free child at naptime.
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If you've ever felt a little lonely as a parent, here's an easy conversation starter for no matter the situation..at storytime, at daycare drop-off, at the playground. With sitters, moms, playdates, (and anyone who will listen), the conversations of any mama with a child under the age of three will often circle back to naps.
Because sometimes it can feel like your whole world revolves around a nap schedule.
Bring up naps, and you'll likely hear a mom launch into a drawn-out speech that answers..
Is she napping?
How long is she napping?
Is she dropping a nap?
Easy to put down?
Not so surprising that with potty training, naps are a big deal, too.
If your child is happily sleeping at naptime, you don't want to disrupt that sleeping harmony. No one wants to anger the nap fairies or disrupt whatever sleeping magic may be working for your toddler.
So the big question during potty training comes back to..
When do you drop the nap diaper?
And more importantly, how?
Let's talk naps and your soon-to-be diaper-free child at naptime.
How to make that all happen without the drama and the doubt.
Here are tips for how to know when to drop the nap diaper and how to set up that bed for a napping diaper-free child..
First, let's consider the timing of dropping the nap diapers.
As with most things, timing is everything.
Related: Keep in mind what I'm sharing here relates back to pattern I've seen as a potty training consultant. I'm not a sleep consultant or a medical practitioner. Every kiddo is different and you are always the expert on your child. I share more tips on dropping the nap diapers and solutions for potty training in my e-course Potty Training Solutions.
There are 3 things to consider in timing when to drop the nap diaper.
I would break them down this way..
Potty training deadline
First, let's talk age and how it relates to naps.
Generally speaking, age doesn't make a big difference for when you drop the nap diapers if you're potty training your child during the ideal potty training window talked about in Oh Crap Potty Training. But maybe you're starting out potty training and your child is over the age of 3, or your little one is younger than 22 months.
That's when age can play a role. (But not always.)
The holding and consolidating ability of an 18-month-old may look different than a 3.5 year-old. Sometimes when you start potty training on the early side, say under age 22 months, there can be dribbles of pee for the first little while.
It may take some time to train the child's bladder to hold for a longer clip, rather than just peeing every 15 minutes or so.
But for a 3-year-old potty training toddler, many of those kiddos are able to hold their pee for a longer window of time, even right in the beginning of potty training. The bladder is forming between ages 3 and 4, so that means you also want those muscles to know how to hold and consolidate the pee.
If you're stepping into potty training on the younger side, it may help your process in the first couple of weeks to have your child in a nap diaper while their pee patterns shift (or to give you a chance to see what the pee pattern looks like).
But if you're potty training a toddler who's three or older, then it's worth considering if the nap diaper is going to turn into another obstacle to work through.
(Check out my other two tips below for more on that.)
Second, let's consider pee patterns and how that relates to naps.
Some kiddos can naturally hold their pee for a long time, even the first day of potty training. So it stands to reason that if your child can hold their pee for a 2-hour clip in the daytime, then they can hold their pee during a nap.
What happens when you keep the nap diapers, and your child's pee pattern shows their bladder can already hold and consolidate the pee for more than an hour?
It's possible the nap diaper can turn into the thing that your toddler is holding for.
Related: If your child is holding their pee for hours and hours when the diapers come off, then that can be a bigger issue than to nap diaper or not. Especially if you're seeing escalating resistance or anxiety around using the potty, reach out for support as you don't want your toddler in a pattern of holding their pee too long, or way past the point of comfort.
But there are other toddlers who start potty training in the daytime and are dribblers. Just dribbling pee here and there, every few minutes, when the diapers come off. That's a sign that the child's ability to hold and consolidate hasn't kicked in.
And that can mean that naps will look like a mess if you step in right away with diaper-free naptimes. So that's when a nap diaper can be helpful to keep on until you see the pee pattern shift. Until you see your child able to hold their pee for a longer clip of time.
Related: Are you ready to drop the nap diapers but your child's pee pattern is not there yet with holding and consolidating? Or did you cloth diaper your child and you're feeling resistant to bring in disposables or pull-ups for naps (until your child is ready to go diaper-free)? Then here's an alternative that can hold a pee accident, but it's not a diaper, either. Basically, these reusable training pants are a cross between a diaper and a cloth training pant with super absorbing powers!
You want to be mindful of the accidents.
Of course, there will be accidents when you start potty training.
But if the child can't hold their pee for more than 20 minutes and you start out with your kiddo being diaper-free during their 2-hour-nap, you're likely to see a lot of wet beds.
And wet beds on the regular can become a bad potty training habit. You don't want the accidents to become normalized. So that's where the toddler's pee pattern points to waiting on removing the nap diapers.
Related: Just like with nights, it's worth considering where your toddler is sleeping before taking away the nap diapers. Here's how to time the transition of the crib to a toddler bed so it helps the potty training process.
Finally, you also want to consider your potty training deadline.
Maybe you're potty training with a preschool or daycare deadline in mind.
Maybe the Montessori preschool where your toddler will be going has a firm no-diapers-at-nap rule that you're focused on.
Maybe you're hoping to move through the potty training process faster, simply for your sanity. How are you feeling?
Pull off the band-aid and let's go!
Then the important thing to remember here is that if your toddler is in a nap diaper, that's another 7 - 18 hours a week in diapers, depending on how long your toddler is napping. The more time in the diapers, the more the child has that muscle memory of the diapers.
To keep it simple, here's how to think on your potty training process..
The less time your toddler is in diapers, the faster the process tends to go.
So I often suggest to parents (who aren't ready to wrap their head around night training) to try separating the diapers as day and night.
In the daytime, including nap, the child is diaper-free.
At night, your child uses any bedtime diaper or a pull-up.
Separating day and night helps make it clear in your child's mind, too.
Rather than putting a diaper back on in the middle of the day, you're making a clean break of the diapers throughout the day. Night diapers can be called sleep pants (much like we suggest changing up the language for pull-ups when traveling by plane in Oh Crap Potty Training), or even just calling them night diapers doesn't get mixed up in a toddler's mind.
Because bedtime and the night routine feels different than nap, too.
So once you've figured out the when and decided on your timing with dropping the nap diapers, how do you set up your toddler to be diaper-free at naptime with success?
What do you need for your toddler to be diaper-free at nap?
Here's a checklist to follow:
Start off with your toddler bare-bummed. Your toddler might be cruising with using the potty while wearing their pants, shorts, or leggings. But being asleep for 90 minutes is a different thing altogether. By sending your diaper-free toddler to nap bottomless....no pants, no undies...you help your child cue into that sensation to go pee. And you're less likely to see accidents.
Then add in the toddler underwear. In case you're wondering..here are my favorites for toddler cloth training pants (my hands-down favorite style of underwear for potty training toddlers.)
Bring the potty to the bedroom. Hopefully your toddler gets a good pee before nap and then is off in sleepyland for the entire nap. But maybe your child feels pee or poop when she goes to lie down for nap. Or maybe she feels pee right when she wakes up from her nap. You want to have her set up for success. Make sure to have a small potty by the bed to make it super easy to get a pee out if she feels the pee.
Practice what it will look like. Practice does make things more normalized. You can set up your child that she's doing so well with going pee in the potty, that she doesn't need her nap diapers anymore. So then you can do a little role playing of what happens when she's napping and feels the pee. What could she do? Other ways to help with role playing...bring in some visuals with a few good potty books (what happens when you feel the poop, feel the pee, etc.).
Create a rhythm and ritual around using the potty before nap. Just like you created rituals and routines to help with sleep when your toddler was little, you'll find that having a routine helps normalize peeing in the potty before nap. To set up for success, you want to make peeing in the potty before nap a routine ritual for your toddler. Looking for more support on talking through routines? I love this book for school and these books for everyday routines at home.
So now you have a starting point for how to set up your toddler for naps as you move through potty training.
Then be prepared to be the mama who's getting asked all the questions when the conversation turns back to naps..
And the word gets out that your toddler is happily napping WITHOUT a nap diaper!
Insert wink emoji.
Looking for books to help center your child on napping (diapers on or off?)...then here are a few favorites for your children's library.
I Will Take a Nap: If you're not familiar with the Elephant and Piggie series, you're in for a treat. Hard to say who will be giggling more — you or your toddler.
What Is Sleep?: Not only does this book put the focus on what's most important here (sleep!!), but the lift-a-flap design is a good way to engage your toddler to settle down for a story and quiet time.
Dragon Post: This is the #1 most requested book in our home right now. It's so unique and a super fun read. Plus, the illustrations are SO good. Your child will love pulling out the letters and hearing this fun story about a dragon. I prefer interactive books for times of resistance (like getting overtired kiddos to quiet down for a nap).
Yawn: Of course, no child will ever admit to being tired (wink wink). But this book shows a whole lot of tired animals (yawn) getting ready for sleep.
Very First Book of Things to Spot at Home: Sometimes there's not enough attention span for a story. And sometimes a book that challenges your child to find things can help settle the overtired-and-bonky energy, too.
I Need a Hug: We all have those days when it's tough to get your child to bed. I feel like those tough times are when everyone needs a hug...your overtired, bonky toddler. And yes, even you.
A Nap in a Lap: A sweet rhyming book about cuddly, cozy naps.
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Illustrations by Citrus and Mint Designs.