What happens when your kids outgrow naps, but you still need a break in the afternoon? So you make a guilt-free move to quiet time.
Quiet time can be a fantastic, relaxing, simple break in the day for all involved, but it does take a little planning.
What Is a Quiet Time for Toddlers and Preschoolers?
Quiet time is simply a period of unstructured, calm time for your child.
This usually takes place in your child’s room and is an opportunity for their bodies and brains to rest and slow down once their afternoon nap has gone away.
Quiet time is a period in the afternoon where a child (or children) play with low-key toys or activities and take a little break from asking their parents “…but why” questions.
It’s an excellent bridge for both parents and kids coming off of nap time or for those used to a quieter afternoon schedule at school or daycare. Quiet time is where it’s at.
But how do you set up quiet time? How do you keep your kids quiet? How do you get a break and NOT feel guilty about it?
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When Should I Introduce Quiet Time for My Child?
Ideally, your child would continue napping until at least three years of age and then once that nap was disappearing, you would start to introduce quiet time.
We caution you not to introduce quiet time too early, though.
How to Set up Quiet Time?
You Don’t Need to Feel Guilty About Quiet Time.
There is nothing wrong with quiet time, and you are not harmful to be a parent who needs/expects it.
In a world constantly telling parents to “take care of you” and find some self-care time – that’s precisely what quiet time is.
We need and deserve even the slightest break during the day to reset and recharge. This isn’t the wrong time for kids or a mean thing to set up.
This is a way to let your child know that you value their need to relax, rest, and have space, and you love your own need to rest, relax and have freedom.
You are not a bad parent for doing quiet time.
You’re a great parent offering a variety of options to your child of varying degrees of stimulation. This exists for an important reason.
Some children will relish the idea of quiet time. Others well, not so much. To avoid resistance, start quiet time out slowly, perhaps in 15-20 minute increments.
Allow your child to play quietly, and do a timed check.
Pop your head into the room, acknowledge what a great job he is doing of playing quietly, and if you feel it is called for, suggest alternative items that he may play with. For example, if he’s been reading books, maybe he’d like to play with the blocks.
Think of this as the “quiet time for toddlers shuffle.” You can continue to check-in at regular intervals, gradually moving your position from going into his room to just popping your head around the corner to peeking in from the hall.
Model Independent Play
Independent play is essential for your child’s development, and it’s central to effective quiet time.
If you find that your little one is struggling to stay engaged for more than a few minutes without your help, you may want to help them exercise their imagination by practising the activities that you have available for quiet time.
Build a bridge with blocks, have her read you a story, or put on a puppet show, then slowly bow out of the activity and allow your child to play independently. This will help set the stage for quiet time and spark her imagination.
Independent play is essential for your child’s development, and it’s central to effective quiet time for toddlers.
Treat Quiet Time for Toddlers Like Nap Time
At its core, quiet time is downtime for your child. It’s a time during the day where they have an opportunity to rest their busy little bodies and minds.
The length of quiet time can range anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending upon the child.
Proper use of quiet time can make your late afternoon and evening activities more pleasant, as well as helping with bedtime.
You can even set the stage for quiet time by utilizing parts of your child’s naptime routine — such as a snuggle and story — but letting them know that they are allowed to play quietly in their room or snuggle in the recliner and watch Brainy Baby instead of sleeping if they choose.
Choose Activities for Quiet Time
Many parents wonder what activities to employ during a quiet time for toddlers. At the risk of being obvious, we recommend calm training or a selection of activities.
Good choices include books, a slow-moving, quiet video (avoid fast-paced, comedic cartoons, as this will encourage lots of activity), colouring, playing with blocks or Legos, dolls, trains, puzzles, puppets, etc.
The options are limitless, as long as the child is calm, quiet, and playing in the designated quiet time area.
Some parents find that their children cannot relax if they have too many options available, and that’s okay.
In these instances, consider having a quiet time box that contains activities that are only accessible during quiet time.
Be sure that you explain to your child that it’s quiet time, and you have a super-special box of activities just for this time.
To make sure that your child doesn’t get bored, try to rotate toys on a semi-regular basis. This is especially helpful if you use a quiet time box.
Have a Set Quiet Time-Space
The best place for quiet time is in your child’s room, where you can provide dimmed lights and familiar pre-nap preparations to help ease him into quietly playing or reading.
Having quiet time in his room will also allow your child to sleep comfortably should he choose — provided that he’s not in a crib.
If your child has transitioned to quiet time and is still in a crib, you can provide activities for him in his crib and let him know that it’s nap time, but if he can’t sleep, then he can read a book, do a puzzle, or play with his puppets.
If you find that his room has too many toys, consider having quiet time in another room or moving the toys so that he does not become over-stimulated while he’s trying to rest.
Use Dramatic Wake-Up
Quiet time for toddlers ends when you go into your child’s room to tell them how proud you are that they played so quietly.
Tell them that it’s time for the next portion of your daily routine. For example, many families find that having a snack after quiet time is helpful.
If your child is pretty independent, some families find that it helps to use an alarm clock, radio, or light to help alert the child to the end of quiet time.
She is allowing your child the independence to end quiet time “on her own” will cut back on questions about when she can go outside, finger paint, or come downstairs.
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Be Consistent, Be Flexible
Children are all about consistency. So, just as you were consistent with naps, be compatible with quiet time for toddlers. You may find that your child will eventually look forward to her quiet time.
Just like nap times, there will be some days that are just ‘off’.
Expect that some days will be better than others and that your child may only be able to handle a maximum of 45 minutes playing independently, while other children are thrilled with a total of 2 hours.
Figure out what works for your family, and enjoy the peace.
Expectations for Quiet Time
Quiet time is not the same as naptime. In addition, your child is mobile and playing independently, which means that the rules need to change a bit.
Keep your expectations simple and easy to understand. Some parents find that sticking to 3-5 rules is helpful. Some key expectations for quiet time for toddlers:
- He needs to stay in his room.
- If he needs something, he should come and get you rather than yelling. Consider setting some limits regarding the number of times he can go and contact you if this begins to get out of hand.
- The activities for quiet time need to be dead. That means no screaming, yelling, or playing the bongos.
- Set potty rules. Does he need your assistance? Is he able to quietly use the toilet on his own, should the need arise?
You may also want to consider whether or not you allow snacks and drinks.
Many families find that having lunch directly before quiet time helps to ensure that your child has a full tummy and will limit the number of crumbs that end up in their bedrooms.
Other families allow small, quiet snacks.
Whatever your quiet time rules, be sure to establish them at the beginning of every quiet time. Just make it part of your preparation routine.
Long Term Benefits of Quiet Time
Provides Space for Your Child’s Developing Creativity
It is only when kids are faced with constructing their entertainment that true creativity comes out.
Research shows that boredom leads to creativity. And, perhaps it’s not boredom per se, but being faced with filling a period of entirely unstructured time.
Unstructured time is something we have almost lost in our busy lives, and it is certainly something we are not used to filling without screens.
In one study, children were either asked to perform a structured activity with instructions or play with salt-dough with no instructions.
Afterwards, each group was asked to create a collage with coloured tissue paper.
Children in the unstructured group showed more creativity and used more colours in their college than those who did the structured activity.
In this modern age of instant gratification and entertainment, we fill all of our time with structure and stimulation — without even meaning to do it.
Having daily quiet time is a way to create a space or period of unstructured time mindfully.
You may be met with resistance from both younger and older children alike when introducing this unstructuredness — because it is hard to learn to fill your own time. See tips below for how to start the habit of quiet time in your home.
Increases Your Child’s Autonomy
When a child is faced with unstructured time, they must use their brain differently — in an innovative way.
They must make decisions, plan, and create — hallmarks of critical thinking and executive functioning. Research supports the idea that unstructured play leads to more self-directed executive functioning.
Kids need this unstructured time to be able to practice these skills. Of course, they also need time outside and lots of time playing pretend with other kids, but a different kind of play emerges in quiet time.
Do you ever feel fully immersed in a project or a task, so much so that you lose the sense of time? In positive psychology, this is called a state of flow, and it is associated with creativity and a sense of enjoyment.
Children only really achieve this immersive state of flow when they are playing uninterrupted. Perhaps it can also happen during physical activity, but the most natural space for flow is during unstructured play.
Quiet time provides the space and opportunity for your kids to get into that magical state of flow, allowing room for developing executive functioning skills.
Over time, the ability to play independently will become one of your child’s skills.
They will be able to entertain themselves, handle boredom, decide how to structure their time and play independently.
It won’t be something only done in quiet time — it will spill over into other aspects of your child’s life.
Provides a Chance to Recenter and Recharge
Quiet time provides the chance to disengage, to recoup — a mental break. This is a healthy habit no matter your age. It is a lifestyle choice.
When Can You Start This System?
Instead of making a big deal about it or a big thing to do, maintain the routine and system they were used to: you can still go to their room each day at the same nap time (now quiet time).
What Do You Do During Their Quiet Time?
You rest. You sit. You take your Union Break.
Think of a workplace and all the breaks/alone time a person gets at work:
The alone commute.
Bathroom breaks without an audience.
I was walking around the cubicles to stretch my legs.
Water cooler talk.
- Lunch in peace.
- An afternoon commute alone
You don’t get those moments when you’re at home full-time with young children. It’s hard.
That’s why we encourage parents to use this afternoon time as their break time.
Take this time for yourself. Don’t clean, don’t do dishes, don’t do the laundry. Instead, focus on yourself and recharging/refilling your tank.
More Tips and Tricks
Have a quiet time box. Fill it with simple activities that your child can do without your help. If they need your help to do puzzles, avoid putting those kinds of items in there. This could be things like Legos, blocks, colouring, race cars, books, dolls, stickers etc.
We suggest having a box because it’s easy to transport in and out of their room. However, this box should be removed for bedtime, and if you are keeping naps on some days, then the box should be released on those days.
Keep this box unique just for quiet time.
Try to avoid letting your child play with these specific items outside of quiet time. This keeps the box of goodies more memorable and can act as a motivator to look forward to.
Be sure that you only provide items to play with that you trust your child with.
How Long Should Quiet Time Be?
Quiet time can last anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.
If quiet time is a brand new concept for your toddler or preschooler, we suggest starting small and working your way up.
Start at first with about 15-20 minutes. Then you can gradually increase from there.
Having a visual way for your child to see how much time is left can be helpful, especially as they are getting used to this new habit.
It will help them visually see how much time has passed and how much time is left. This particular one can be set up to 2 hours, but they make shorter (and cheaper) ones!
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