It’s the moment every parent dreads: when you finally admit to yourself that your toddler is pretty much done with naps, and it’s time to transition to quiet time for your kid.
I fought this transition for a long time with both of my girls. I loved the peace and quiet of a house with sleeping children, and I absolutely did not want to let it go!
But thankfully, I’ve learned some awesome strategies that made quiet time around our house much more pleasant and manageable.
How do you introduce a quiet time?
Once you’ve spent a little time mourning the end of nap time bliss, it’s not very hard to start introducing quiet time activities.
I think it’s great for young kids to still have a quiet rest time of laying in the dark in their beds, even if they don’t sleep. So that’s how we start our quiet time. We do the same nap time ritual of stories and music, and I turn out the light and say good night as if I expect her to go to sleep. Sometimes she does! If she hasn’t fallen asleep after half an hour or so, that’s when I offer quiet activities for her to do.
How long should quiet time be?
If your child isn’t used to independent play, you may want to start out with a smaller amount of time, like 30 or 45 minutes. If he or she is a little bit better at entertaining themselves, them you can aim for a longer quiet time for your kids. I think 2 solid hours of quiet time is a great goal to work up to!
If your 3-year-old is anything like mine, you can’t just put him or her in a room without instruction and expect them to behave properly by themselves for 2 hours. They need to know exactly what you expect them them and what good behavior is.
Here’s what we expect from our kids during quiet time:
- They must be quiet
- They must stay in their rooms
- They must not call out for us unless it’s an emergency
We don’t keep a lot of toys in their room so I don’t really worry about what messes they might make but you might include something like not dumping out toys etc.
Your expectations might be different from mine. But whatever expectations you have, your child should know exactly what they are for a successful quiet time.
Review quiet time expectations with your kids
Most toddlers and preschoolers have the memory of a goldfish. They are not going to remember what you told them yesterday about your expectations for quiet time. And they certainly aren’t going to abide by those expectations!
So it’s important to go over your expectations with them at the beginning of every single quiet time. This doesn’t have to take long. I usually go about this by asking them questions.
It goes something like this:
Me: What should you do during quiet time?
Toddler: Be quiet!
Me: Should you come out of your room?
Me: Should you call for mommy?
Me: What happens if you obey and have a good quiet time?
Toddler: I get a penny! (More on this later)
This ensures that the rules are fresh in her mind for a successful quiet time and they have no excuse for misbehaving. She knows exactly what’s expected of her!
Tell them why quiet time is important for kids AND parents
If you have a three or a four year old kid in quiet time it might be helpful to explain the reasoning behind why we quiet time is important.
- Kids need their rest. Tell your child that even if they don’t sleep, quiet time helps them feel better and have the energy to have a fun afternoon!
- Parents need their rest. It’s important for your kid to understand that you are not superhuman and you need to take a break in the middle of the day so that you won’t be grouchy later either.
Make it about you and not them. Tell them that Mommy is very tired and she needs to rest and take a break from being a mommy for a little while so that you can be a better mommy later. That’s why it’s important that they don’t bother you during quiet time.
For kids, quiet time is their “big important job”
Kids love to help. So make them feel like they are helping by being quiet during quiet time. Tell them that it is their very big important job to be quiet and to entertain themselves during quiet time.
Remind them of a time that you got super grouchy or irritable when quiet time didn’t go well. Explain that in order for that not to happen Mommy needs to have a good quiet time everyday and they need to remember the quiet time rules and obey them.
Kids thrive with responsibility so use that to your advantage!
Let them know you’ll come check on them
If you have a kid who comes out of their room 42 times during quiet time and you just can’t get them to stay, let them know that you will come check on them later. It can be 10, 20, or 30 minutes, it doesn’t really matter.
The important thing is that if they know you plan to come up to see them, it helps them to not feel so antsy in their room. They won’t feel the need to come out on their own so often.
Just make sure you set a timer for yourself so that you don’t forget to actually go in and check on them like you said you would!
Create blocks of time
It’s not really reasonable to expect a two or three year old to entertain themselves all alone in a room without any sort of structure.
You can create a sense of structure by turning quiet time into blocks of time for them.
For my kid’s quiet time, I have them lay down quietly in their rooms in the dark for about half an hour. Sometimes they fall asleep during that time, which is fantastic!
But if they don’t sleep and are still awake after 30 minutes then I let them look at books for half an hour.
Wonderbooks are awesome for this block of time! The books read themselves to your child. So fun!
After books, then I let them get out of bed and play with toys for another 30 minutes. You can rotate the types of toys that you have allow them to play with each day to keep things new and fresh and more interesting for them.
Magnatiles are a favorite for independent play for just about any age!
If my older daughter is home from school, then I let them play together for the last 30 minutes if they promise to get along and not fight. If fighting happens, then they have to separate again.
Use a visual timer for a successful quiet time for kids
Another way to keep kids from popping out of their room all the time is to have a visual timer in there with them. That way they don’t have to wonder how much time is left or feel the need to come and ask you. They can see exactly how much time is left without needing help from an adult!
I like the idea of these hourglass timers because they don’t make noise when they’re done so you might be able to sneak in a few extra minutes into quiet time if they are really engaged in an activity and don’t notice at the time is up. Use the 30 minute one to mark each time block of quiet time!
Create a reward system
Never underestimate the power of rewards! If your kid does a fantastic job of being quiet during quiet time, doesn’t bother you, and entertains herself, reward her for it! That is definitely the kind of behavior that you want to reinforce.
If you already have a reward system in place, just utilize that. If you don’t, consider using a sticker chart or or offering a couple pieces of a small candy if they do a great job and being quiet. Think about what motivated them during the potty training process and try that. We recently started using the penny system from M is for Mama and it’s working really well so far!
Don’t hesitate to use consequences
If, in spite of all your best efforts at using these tips ,your child still won’t stay in her room and still won’t be quiet, then don’t hesitate to give her consequences!
There are any number of options for consequences. You could start quiet time by telling them that they’ll get five M&M’s if they do well and then take one away each time they are noisy or come out of their room to bother you.
Our kids watch a 5-minute YouTube video every night before bed, but if they misbehave during quiet time (or at any other point during the day) then they lose that privilege.
You could also take away a favorite toy or two.
You know your kid best and you know what motivates them so do it works for you! Consequences for disobedience are an important part of establishing a consistent quiet time for your child.
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Melinda worked with children for years in a professional setting before becoming a full-time stay at home mom. She currently has three young children, and enjoys sharing tips and ideas about parenting and how to manage a home with excellence. She’s been featured on Heathline and Her View From Home.