Quiet time is a chance for your child to rest and reset but how do you encourage your child to actually stay quiet and rest?
If you’re like most parents, you cherish nap time and you dread the day your child no longer needs a nap. When your child is asleep in the middle of the day, you get to take a breather. It’s a time when you can catch up on jobs or have a much-needed rest yourself. Unfortunately as your child grows, his sleep needs will change, which means there will come a time when you must say ‘RIP’ to the nap. As you can imagine, your child will naturally find it hard to get through to bedtime in the evening without melting down as he adjusts to no nap. If this is your child, the best things you can do are to offer an earlier bedtime and introduce ‘quiet time’ and put an end to the nap.
Read on for twelve top tips!
1. Create a safe space.
Ideally, quiet time should be in your child’s room, just in case he decides he actually does want to have a nap and because this is where he usually rests. Alternatively, you can set up a special quiet time area in the living room or some other shared space, so that he can see you close by. If your child is going to rest in his bedroom, the first thing you must do is make it safe. Remove small choking hazards such as Lego pieces, use safety plugs in power points and secure furniture and loose cords.
2. Make it cosy and inviting.
Aim to make this space inviting and special. You want it to be a place your child will want to be. Throw a blanket over some chairs to make a cubby or set up an indoor tent as a quiet time space. Use comfy pillows or cushions, keep the lights low and give your child a torch. You could string up some twinkly fairy lights and only switch them on during quiet time. You might turn on some soft, background music to help with relaxation.
3. Spend some 1-1 time with your child first.
Your child will find it easier to be apart from you if he gets his ‘fix’ of togetherness with you first. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time or a specific play time. Lunch time is a great opportunity to turn off screens, put aside your phone and focus your attention fully on your child. Alternatively, you might play a game, read books or have a picnic in the backyard. He needs some of your undivided time and attention before he will feel happy to play on his own.
4. Prepare your child.
Children feel safe and are more compliant when they know what’s coming next. Pick a time in the morning and tell your child that you’ve noticed he isn’t sleeping during nap time anymore. Ask him if he’d like to read or play quietly in his room instead of taking a nap. Have you ever come across a child who would rather sleep than play? No way! Involve your child in the preparation of his quiet time area and he will feel a sense of ownership and responsibility over the new routine. This helps put a positive spin on the whole thing.
5. Practice independent play.
Model and encourage independent play at other times of the day so he gets used to playing on his own. If your child isn’t used to self-directed play, you will need to make a conscious effort to allow him the space to explore activities on his own, without your intervention. Be patient. This will take time and practice.
6. Decide on your quiet time rules and natural consequences.
Having consistent rules and consequences around quiet time will help bring structure and predictability to the routine and make things go smoothly. Avoid using the word ‘don’t’ as this word doesn’t register in a child’s brain. If you said, ‘don’t come out of your room’, your child will only hear, ‘come out of your room’ and you can guarantee that your child will be out in the blink of an eye. Instead, tell your child what you do expect him to do. Choose two or three simple rules for quiet time such as ‘be quiet’ and ‘stay in your room until a certain time is up/until mummy comes to get you’. A natural consequence for being noisy or screaming might be that you will shut the door for a few minutes. A natural consequence for coming out of his room might be that you will escort him back silently. If he continued to come out, you might shut the door for a few minutes or use a ‘door helper’.
7. Reinforce quiet time expectations.
Use visual cues to help reinforce your expectations. You can have your child help you make a poster that depicts what quiet time might ‘look like’ as one part of the entire day’s routine. He can check off or stamp each part of his daily routine as it’s completed. A helpful visual tool for children in quiet time is a toddler clock such as the ‘Hatch’ or ‘Growclock’. When the light changes colour, he will know quiet time is over. Or, you can use a visual timer, such as the ‘Time Timer Clock’.
Role-play is an effective and fun way to show your child what is expected of him. Children learn best from adults modelling behaviours. You might also consider using rewards for successful quiet time, such as stickers, or time watching a show together after quiet time is over. Use rewards for no longer than two weeks, only while you are developing your child’s new routine, as they tend to lose their effectiveness after such time.
8. Keep your routine consistent.
Transitions are smoother when they become part of your daily routine. Setting the expectation that quiet independent play will take place around the same time every day will help your child adjust more easily. Stick to a version of your current pre-nap ritual leading up to quiet time. It can also help to start and end quiet time with a specific phrase that you both say (and do). For example: ‘Let’s now take our bows because it’s quiet time now’ or, ‘Time to come out, let’s high five it out’.
9. Prepare activities ahead of time.
Decide on the things that your child might like to play with independently. Make sure they are suitable for playing with, without requiring your help. Choose things that won’t make a mess. Puzzles are generally not a good idea as children can get frustrated with them easily. Choose things like blocks, cars, dolls and figurines for imaginative play. Activities that encourage fine motor skills such as lacing or buttoning would be suitable but you might need to show your child how these work and allow him to practice with them first. Books are great, especially interactive or sensory books. Audiobooks are also a good option.
Purchase three (or more) tubs of different colours and fill them with the activities you’ve collected. Explain to your child… “These are special boxes of toys and books just for quiet time. They are special. They will be stored (somewhere out of your child’s reach) during the day and will come out only at quiet time and they are just for you. I will change them/you can choose a box each day and you will get to play with something different. How exciting! If you want to play with these things, you will need to stay in your room/next to me/in your play area and be quiet like a mouse, until mummy says quiet time is finished.”
10. Set your child up for success.
Ideally, you will want your child to have quiet time for at least an hour which can seem like eternity for a child, especially in the beginning. It might take your child a few days to get used to the routine of extended independent playtime, so it can be helpful to start small. Start with ten to fifteen minutes of quiet time. Then, you can either continue the rest period together or allow him to watch a show. Each day after that, add on five to ten minutes and repeat. Your child has no concept of time so there’s no need to explain your process.
11. Practice dramatic endings.
When quiet time ‘is up’ and assuming he’s followed the quiet time rules, go to your child, use your ‘finish phrase’, high five him and praise him for playing quietly in his room as you asked. You might choose to offer him a reward like a sticker or stamp on his hand. If you’ve created a poster depicting the daily routine, allow him to check off that part on the chart and ask him to tell you, ‘what’s next’? A good follow-on activity might be having afternoon tea or spending some time outdoors
12. Be consistent.
As with most things, quiet time works best when you have a plan. Expect that your child might push your boundaries around quiet time and be prepared with how you will respond. You might have to return him to his room a few times if he leaves before the time is up. You might decide to sit in his room for a while he plays, but be sure not to engage or interrupt his play. In any case, remember that you are in charge and consistency is key.