Today I want to talk a little bit about playing in the crib. If you have been around the block when it comes to sleep training your baby, this might sound like something you’ve experienced. If you’re just starting out, or are looking for ideas on where to begin, this might sound like the craziest thing ever. If you’ve got a child who’s not sleeping well, the idea that they might be playing in their crib is probably a bit of a foreign concept, but it happens. If you’ve got a child who can sleep well, can sleep independently, adore their sleep space and loves to go in when it’s sleep time, you will find that there will be periods in your child’s life where they’re having a party in that crib all by themselves.
I can remember going through it with all of my littles, specifically, around nap time. I’d put them down for their nap, they’d have a party in there, for an hour or more, before they finally would fall asleep. When my families go through something like this with their baby, it’s not uncommon for these questions to come up: “What should I do? They’re in there playing and they’re supposed to be asleep. How should I respond? Should I go in to stop them? Shouldn’t I?”
Don't Stress Too Much!
My advice is to definitely not spend much time stressing about it or to devote a lot of energy to intervening. It’s often tied to a developmental phase that your child’s going through. This behavior can be especially common around the time your child turns eighteen months to two years of age. It has a lot to do with the language acquisition that they go through at that age; they’re learning so much at such a rapid pace, they need time to process these changes.
They often do it by babbling, singing, or talking, and that’s part of the process of just organizing all this new information. This is extremely normal in child development. If your child’s in there most, if not all of naptime, shouting, singing, and having a blast, yes, this does mean that they didn’t sleep. A good perspective to have is to acknowledge that it was still a break for your child. This also means that you got a break. While it would have been ideal if they fell asleep or enjoyed the long naps, it’s still a rest period enjoyed, because any gross motor movement was confined to the crib, and you were not on duty to play and interact with your child. Instead, you can just call it nap time. Go in, get your child out, and go about your day.
What You CAN Do
If your child didn’t nap that day, it is a smart move to change bedtime to a time that is a bit earlier than normal to try and compensate for loss day sleep, but try not to stress too much about this becoming a new habit. This stage in the development usually fades out within a week or two, and then they go back to napping well and settling down for bedtime more quickly. It could just be, as part of the developmental milestone, that your child needs some time to play and talk with minimal stimulation and distraction. Give it a week or two and see if it goes away on its own. If it doesn’t, then you may need to look at adjusting your child’s daytime schedule.
I find that most toddlers will happily take a nap during the day, but then at bedtime wanted to a have party until 9:00 PM at night. If you’re experiencing this and you’re headed into the third or fourth week of listening to your child partake in social hour during their nap time, it’s time to look at the nap and determine if it needs to go. Otherwise, I want you to adopt the mindset of “wait and see”. Similar to the adage that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink; you can provide the time and opportunity for time of rest, you cannot force someone, especially a strong-minded toddler, to sleep.
Trust Your Child's Sleep Skills
You could go in there and offer sleep reminders and redirection, but if they’re not going to sleep, they simply won’t. Keep reminding yourself that you’re giving them ample opportunity to take a great nap, get to bed on time, and sleep a perfect night. With your hard work, you’ve given them all the skills they need to be an excellent sleeper, and the rest is up to them. If they want to play for an hour before they finally doze off, that is fine. If they want to play through the whole nap, that’s okay too. This stage is an important part of their development, and it won’t last forever.
If you’re suspecting that your child’s play time in their crib is more closely tied to a schedule that’s not quite meeting their needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a quick call to see if there are some simple adjustments to make or if it’s an indication that what you’re experiencing is a bit more involved than a typical developmental milestone. Otherwise, enjoy the breaks and don't forget to document some of the funny ways your child exercises their new voice!
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.