Naptime is precious time for moms…but eventually kids outgrow it. Here’s how we’ve transitioned to quiet time instead and saved everyone’s sanity.
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It was ten o’clock on a Sunday night. My husband and I had been struggling for TWO hours to get our boys (ages 3 and 5) to go to sleep, and we were both at our wits’ end. Sadly, this wasn’t a rare occurrence in our house at the time. For the past month and a half, this had been the story more evenings than not, and we had reached a breaking point.
We knew the situation was bad, both for our kids’ sleep and for our marriage. We had NO time together that didn’t involve shooing kids back to bed, striving to be patient, failing, yelling at them for being too rambunctious, and then everyone finally collapsing way too late.
Part of the problem, we knew, was that our boys had recently started sharing a room in preparation for baby number three’s arrival. Having each other to play with was distracting at bedtime.
Part of the problem was also that the approach of summer meant that it wasn’t getting dark outside until way past their bedtime (which has always been 8:00). They could see other kids playing outside, and they loved peeking out their windows to see what was going on in the neighborhood. Even blackout curtains couldn’t fool them.
Probably the biggest part of the problem was that as the boys had gotten older, their sleep needs had changed, but they were still both napping during the day. My five-year-old has always needed a lot of sleep, and always wanted naps (Yes, I know that’s not normal). Even when he started going to bed later, he was really good about playing quietly or looking at books in his room until he was ready to put himself to sleep. My three-year-old…well, he’s a different story…more of the variety of jumping off of things or coming out begging for water…and potty breaks…and toys…and “I just want you!” for hours on end. And he was rubbing off on his older brother. Not good.
As we talked that night, my husband brought up this last naptime point hesitantly. He knows how sacred naptime is to me: it’s when I clean, it’s when I blog, and it’s when I recharge so I can make it through the late afternoon and evening.
But, I knew he was right before he could even get the whole sentence out of his mouth. Still, I explained to him that I felt like I just could NOT give up that precious time altogether–at least not if I was going to retain what little sanity I still had. I need that break in the middle of the day.
Anyone else been in this boat?
So we asked ourselves, “How can we meet everyone’s needs?”
The answer was trading “nap” time for “quiet” time.
What’s the difference between naptime and quiet time?
For us, naptime means laying down to sleep with no other distractions in the room (like toys). With quiet time, on the other hand, we allow our boys to stay awake and play with quiet, independent toys and activities. I don’t care if they sleep. I just want them to have a break from me and from each other. I want them to slow down from their usual breakneck pace, and let their bodies rest a bit.
How we make quiet time work:
1. Set up a separate place for each child.
When we first put the boys in the same room for bedtime, I was trying to keep them in the same room for naptime as well. Seriously, why did I ever think that would actually work? It usually resulted in wrestling matches, me yelling (which I hate) and everyone being grumpy by the end of “naps”. Sometimes I could actually get the boys to fall asleep, but it required way too much active work on my part. Not sustainable.
So, when we made the transition to “quiet” time, we gave each of the boys their own space. We still have an empty room until baby #3 arrives, so each day they switch who is in the boys’ room and who is in the baby’s room. If you don’t have enough bedrooms for each child to be alone, consider what spaces you can utilize. When we’ve had house guests staying with us (and taking up the baby’s room), I’ve let my boys use Mom and Dad’s room. I worried they would get into trouble in there, but they haven’t (at least not yet).
2. Give each child several independent activities to do.
You cannot put a preschool-aged child in a room by himself with nothing to do and expect him to stay there for 90 minutes or more. It ain’t gonna happen. I started quiet time with the idea of having a set of boxes filled with activities for my boys to do each day. I still love the idea of having activities that they only use during quiet time and that we rotate through so they only see each activity once a week.
However, I’ve found that with my kids, this is totally unnecessary. Instead of me doing all the work to pull together the activities, we simply go to the toy closet and I let each of them pick 2-4 activities they would like to do that day.See below for a list of activities that we love (and that can be done without supervision):
- puzzles (we especially like these and these)
- Look-and-find books (here’s my kids’ favorite)
- magnet tiles
- felt board
- velcro popsicle sticks
- pretend play with animals (we have this set and love it)
- wooden blocks
- Lincoln logs
- cars and a road rug
- pattern blocks & boards
- latches board
- shape sorter
- wooden trains
For older kids (things I let my five-year-old do, but not Little Brother):
- games (Little Man loves to “practice” playing games like Trouble, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Chutes and Ladders, etc.)
- file folder activities (I want to make more of these!)
- sticker books (reusable ones are great)
- dry erase activity book
Want more ideas? This article has a ton of great activities.
Note: because my kids are out of my sight during quiet time, I avoid things like play dough (too messy) and lacing cards (long strings make me nervous about choking). You’re the expert about your own child, so use your best judgement on what is age appropriate.
3. Set a routine and expectations.
As you transition from naptime to quiet time, it’s important to make sure your children are clear about what the new “rules” are. Here are some questions to consider:
- When does quiet time start? We kept our same pre-naptime routine of cleaning up toys, reading stories, potty break, and then we start quiet time. My boys were already used to this routine, so it worked well for us to keep it going. Reading stories also helps slow down their bodies and get them ready for quiet play. We usually start quiet time between 1:00 and 1:30 pm.
- How long does quiet time last? Ours usually lasts 90 minutes to two hours. I typically get them out of their rooms and give them an afternoon snack around 3:00. They were used to this timing from their napping days, so it works pretty well for us. If your kids aren’t used to quiet time at all, you may want to start with a shorted time period and work your way up.
- Who is in charge of ending quiet time? (Can kids just come out when they are done? Do they have to wait for a parent to “release” them? Will you have a timer or alarm? My kids have to wait for me to come tell them quiet time is over. I’ve even heard of parents putting quiet music on in the hallway (on a timer) and when the music turns off, the kids know they can come out. That way, if someone IS asleep, a loud alarm doesn’t wake them up.
- Under what circumstances is it okay for kids to leave their rooms during quiet time? In our house, it’s only if they have to go to the bathroom.
- What are they allowed to do? Books only? toys? jumping off the furniture?
Ultimately, we have three simple rules…everything else is just the routine.
Here are OUR family’s quiet time rules:
- You must stay in your assigned room until Mom comes to get you (unless you have to go potty…once).
- Any activity you choose to do must be done without Mom’s help. If you need help, set it aside, and Mom will help after quiet time.
- You must clean up all activities you were using during quiet time before you can leave quiet time.
Making the transition from naptime to quiet time
When I first introduced quiet time, I simply told my boys that we were going to start doing something new in the afternoons. Instead of naptime, we were going to start having quiet time. I explained that quiet time meant that they didn’t have to sleep, although they still could if they got tired. Instead, they would each have a special place to rest and play alone for a certain amount of time each day.
I set down the rules and explained the consequences of breaking the rules (if they come out more than once, I start taking activities away). We still followed our normal pre-naptime routine (clean up, books, potty), and then I set them up in their rooms and crossed my fingers.
Really, that was it.
The first week or so I picked out their activities and had them ready in their rooms at quiet time (I used lunch time to do this). Now, they just pick activities on their own (I have to approve their choices so they don’t end up with something too loud, unsafe, or just too many toys altogether) and settle into their rooms.
Remember: it won’t be perfect, especially at first
Transitioning to quiet time hasn’t been perfect, but it has been a serious improvement over the late night parties we were dealing with before. Little Man (5) has always been a pretty good rule follower, so he adjusted quickly to the new routine. Little Brother (3) pushes boundaries like nobody’s business, so I’ve had to be really consistent with him about the expectations and the consequences for breaking the rules. He still has rough days, but most of the time he stays in his room as planned.
That’s been the key…be consistent. Have quiet time every day, and enforce your expectations.
Our results after two months of quiet time
Quiet time verdict: SUCCESS!
We still have some bedtime battles, but they are less often and shorter than before. My boys are getting more sleep at night and that makes for better days.
I have my evenings back, and my husband and I actually feel like we get some time together as a couple. Hooray!
Some days my boys sleep during quiet time and some days they just play. Often, they’ll play for an hour or so and then lay down for a little bit. Occasionally, I’ll even find one of them curled up in the rocking chair in the extra bedroom–love those sweet moments!Either way, they get the downtime they need, and I get some rest and some work time. It’s been interesting to me to observe that–as much as my boys love to play together–they seem to NEED this time away from each other to do their own thing each day.
Even as my kids get older, I’m pretty sure we’ll keep up the routine of doing quiet time each day when they’re not in school. It’s just good for everyone to take a break once and awhile.
Do your kids have quiet time? How does it work in your family?