If your little one is in their crib but not sleeping, it is acceptable to leave them for 10-30 minutes if they do not need immediate attention. However, every child and circumstance is unique.
As they grow and mature, toddlers should be encouraged to become more independent and to rely less on your intervention.
They should not, however, ever feel abandoned or unloved.
According to Parents:
“At 6 months, a child may be content playing by themselves for 5 minutes. At 12 months, they can handle about 15 minutes of solo play. At 18 months, they might play alone for 15 to 20 minutes. At 2 years, they should last around 30 minutes.”
Certified baby and toddler sleep consultant Rachel Norman advocates letting early-rising toddlers play with books and soft toys in the crib before breakfast.
Your little one will likely play in his/her crib until they either get bored, cry for you, or fall asleep.
Everyone’s circumstances and preferences for their toddler will differ.
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How Long To Leave Toddler in Crib To Fall Asleep
There’s no hard rule for how long to leave your toddler in their crib to fall asleep.
Some parents check in every 10 minutes while others let their children have quiet time in the crib until they eventually drift off.
It’s wise to use a baby monitor to see how your child is doing.
You can then take them out of the crib if they haven’t managed to self-soothe to sleep and need your assistance.
How Long To Leave Toddler in Crib After a Nap
Approximately 20-30 minutes is a reasonable time to leave your toddler in a crib after a nap, and you only want to do this if they are content to be there and not calling for you.
If you need to take a shower or finish up some household task, there shouldn’t be any harm in leaving them in their crib for a little longer than this.
How Long To Leave Toddler in Crib in the Morning
As long as they are not fussing or do not sound unhappy, you may decide to leave your toddler for 20-30 minutes or possibly longer after they awaken in the morning.
The exact timing will depend on your child’s mood, need for a diaper change, and available distractions, such as toys or books in the crib.
Benefits of Alone Time for Toddlers
Try not to feel guilty about leaving your little one if they’re content.
Alone time can offer toddlers some amazing benefits for their development and mental well-being such as:
- Independence: Spending time alone allows toddlers to explore and engage in activities independently. It fosters self-reliance and helps them develop problem-solving skills as they figure things out on their own.
- Creativity and Imagination: Toddlers often invent games, role-play scenarios, or engage in imaginative play when left to their own devices, enhancing their cognitive development!
- Emotional Regulation: Being alone at times allows toddlers to learn to manage their emotions and feelings independently. They can self-soothe, learn to entertain themselves, and understand their emotions better.
- Self-Discovery: Toddlers get to explore their interests, preferences, and capabilities, aiding in the formation of their identity and self-awareness.
- Concentration and Focus: Without distractions, toddlers can concentrate better on specific tasks or activities, improving their attention span and focus.
- Decision-Making Skills: When given choices during alone time, toddlers learn decision-making skills. It can be as simple as choosing which toy to play with or what activity to engage in, helping them build confidence in their choices.
- Language Development: Being alone encourages toddlers to babble and talk to themselves, narrate their activities, or create stories. This self-talk aids in language development and expands their vocabulary.
- Rest and Relaxation: In a busy world, toddlers also benefit from downtime. Alone time allows them to rest, relax, and recharge, promoting better mental and physical health.
Leaving Toddler in Crib Guidelines and Considerations
It’s important to follow basic sleep safety practices when leaving your child in a crib, and make sure to check in on them at reasonable intervals.
When trying to decide if it’s a good idea to leave your toddler in the crib while awake, consider the following factors and circumstances first.
1. Is He Content or Crying?
If your child is satisfied in his crib, then he’s probably fine. If he is crying and screaming, then you need to make sure he’s safe.
When a child won’t stop crying and responds negatively to being in a crib, you can work to make it a better place that he enjoys.
However, if left in the crib to cry continuously, he may start to have negative associations with it.
2. Does He Really Need a Nap?
If your toddler doesn’t really need a nap, there’s no reason to put him in his crib expecting him to sleep. Let him get a bit tired first.
When your little one needs more sleep, they’ll let you know with signs like:
- Yawning and Eye Rubbing: Just like adults, toddlers often yawn when they’re tired. They may also rub their eyes frequently or seem to have droopy eyelids.
- Irritability and Crankiness: When tired, toddlers can become more irritable and fussy. They may also cry more frequently and have mood swings.
- Decreased Movement or Less Talkative: As tiredness sets in, toddlers might become less interested in playing, exploring, or engaging in things, appearing to slow down and become quieter.
- Clumsiness or Lack of Coordination: Fatigue can affect a toddler’s motor skills. You might notice increased clumsiness, trips, or falls when they’re sleepy.
- Increased Cuddliness or Seeking Comfort: A tired toddler can be more clingy as they look for comfort.
3. Toddler’s Age
A 1-year-old needs more sleep than a 3-year-old (11-14 hours a day is best between ages 1 and 2, but this can decrease to about 10 hours after the age of 3).
Adjust how often and how long you expect your kids to nap as they age.
4. Does He Have Ways To Entertain Himself?
Toddler-safe options, like board books or stuffed animals, will give your child something to play with while they try to sleep.
These options can keep them from feeling alone.
5. Is He Calling for You?
A child who is calling for you needs to be checked on.
Whether your child is looking for emotional or physical support, you should come when they have a need and are specifically calling for you.
6. How Will the Day’s Schedule Be Affected?
Look ahead to your day’s schedule, and figure out how alone time in the crib, especially if your child is unhappy, is going to impact the rest of the day.
It may be worth it to step in and help your child nap if missing the nap will derail things later.
7. What Kind of Precedent Do You Want To Set?
Do you want the crib to just be for sleep or also a place your child sees as a play area?
Are you worried that if your child sees the crib as a place where they whimper and cry alone for a period of time each day, it will have negative associations and impact their sleep?
Some parents incorrectly use the crib as a “time-out” punishment, but keeping them confined in their place for sleep and naps will only create further negative associations and should be avoided when sleep training your toddler.
8. Circadian Rhythms
Circadian rhythms are not fully developed until after the first year, and poor sleep habits can delay this even further for some.
As such, some toddlers may lack certain sleeping cues and may not give in to napping, even if they are tired.
Self-Soothing Materials for Your Toddler’s Crib
Once your child is past the age of one, the risk of SIDS goes down.
At that point, you can put safe stuffed animals, board books, and other items in the crib with your toddler to help keep them entertained.
Loveys and security blankets are ideal as these are soft blankets or stuffed toys that toddlers often become attached to for comfort.
Ensure they are safe for crib use and are small enough (ideally washcloth-sized) to prevent suffocation risks.
Make sure you don’t put anything in your child’s crib that he could choke on, and don’t put anything he can use to climb over the edge of the crib and fall out.
Top Tips for a Comfortable Naptime
- Consistent Routine: Establish a regular nap schedule, and stick to it as much as possible. Consistency helps toddlers anticipate nap time and encourages better sleep habits.
- Create a Relaxing Environment: Make the nap area conducive to sleep by dimming the lights or using blackout curtains to create a darker space. Ensure the room temperature is comfortable—not too hot or too cold.
- Comfortable Bedding: Use a comfortable and supportive mattress or crib with soft, breathable bedding.
- Wind Down Activities: Engage in calming activities before naptime, such as reading a book, singing lullabies, or practicing gentle yoga or stretching together.
- Provide Reassurance: Offer comforting words, a gentle touch, or a brief cuddle before leaving your toddler to nap. Reassure them that it’s naptime and you’ll be nearby.
- White Noise or Soft Music: Some toddlers find white noise or soothing music helpful for falling asleep. Consider using a white noise machine or playing gentle, calming music to create a peaceful ambiance.
- Comfortable Clothing: Dress your toddler in comfortable sleepwear suitable for the room’s temperature. Loose-fitting, breathable clothes can help ensure they don’t get too hot or cold during their nap.
- Limit Stimulation: Minimize distractions and stimulation in the nap area. Keep toys and electronics away to help your toddler focus on winding down and falling asleep.
- Respect Individual Preferences: Every child is unique. Pay attention to your toddler’s cues as what worked for their older sibling may not work for them. Some may prefer silence while others like gentle background noise, so tailor the environment to suit their needs.
Scheduling Naps for Toddlers
Toddlers generally need 1-2 naps per day, ranging between 1 and 3 hours long.
Around 12-18 months, they might transition from 2 naps to 1 longer afternoon nap. By 2-3 years old, most toddlers nap once a day.
Morning and early afternoon naps work for younger toddlers, but try shifting this to a midday or early afternoon nap as they grow.
Adjust nap schedules as needed, and try sampling different toddler schedules to find out what works best.
Should I Wake My Toddler From a Nap?
If your child is taking naps that are so long that they negatively impact night sleep, you might want to wake them up after a certain time to ensure they will sleep that night.
Longer naps mess with some kids’ sleep but don’t seem to affect others.
When Should Toddlers Stop Napping?
Most parents would like the answer to this question to be never, but most kids transition out of napping between the ages of three and five.
I had one kid stop napping at two-and-a-half while another napped until they were almost five!
Your toddler may still need their daily nap if they consistently sleep 11 hours or less in 24 hours and if they are more irritable and tantrum-prone without them.
The transition is different for every child, but you’ll know your toddler may no longer need their daily nap if they are sleeping routinely for 12 hours or more each day.
Other signs of outgrowing their daily nap are being able to take car rides at their usual nap time without drifting off and their mood stays stable despite skipping the nap.
Common Nap & Sleep Mistakes To Avoid
- Inconsistent Schedule & Rules – Stick to a regular nap routine to avoid disrupting their sleep patterns.
- Skipping or Delaying Naps – Ensure they get scheduled naps to prevent this backfiring later.
- Overstimulation Before Bed – Avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime.
- Ignoring Sleep Cues – Respond to signs of sleepiness to prevent overtiredness.
- Napping Too Close to Bedtime – End the last nap a few hours before bedtime.
- Depending Too Heavily on Sleep Props – Rocking, feeding, or using pacifiers to help toddlers fall asleep creates sleep associations that may become problematic when they wake up in the night.
- Uncomfortable Environment – Ensure a comfortable, quiet, and dark sleep space.
- Forcing Sleep – Avoid forcing naps or bedtime when they’re not tired.
- Neglecting Physical Activities in the Daytime – Make time for enough daytime activity for better sleep.
Why Does It Take So Long for My Toddler To Fall Asleep?
There are a lot of reasons your toddler may take a while to get to sleep.
One is that they can’t turn their little minds off since they are at the stage where they are learning new skills at an alarming rate.
You may also be trying to put them to bed too early or expecting them to nap more often than they need to for their age.
It’s also possible that your child is still too wound up before sleep time, and a consistent sleep routine to prepare your child for rest could help.
Kristy is the mother of four, including identical twins. With a background in education and research, she is constantly learning more about parenting and raising multiples. When she has spare time, she enjoys hiking into the woods with a great book to take a break.