Trying to set up quiet time at your house? I’ve lived the struggle of what to do when children drop their final nap. Here is my step-by-step guide to creating a functioning quiet time system at your house (and keep your afternoon union break).
What happens when your kids outgrow naps but you still need a break in the afternoon? You make a guilt-free move to quiet time.
Quiet time can be a great, relaxing, simple break in the day for all parties involved… but it does take a little planning. This isn’t something that happens naturally. It needs a little intention.
I’m all too happy to help.
RELATED: Wondering what my stay-at-home schedule looks like with three kids under 5? Check out my post all about our daily routine.
What exactly is quiet time?
Quiet time is an option for when nap times end (and a personal favorite of mine).
Family routines are often based around nap time in the early years. This is a sacred time when kids get to recharge and get the rest they need to make it successfully through a day.
Plus, caregivers get a break, too (you know my soap box about naps being a union break, right?). Everyone fills their cup at nap time. It’s pretty crucial to early childhood and early parenting.
But it doesn’t last forever. Eventually, kids grow up and grow out of naps.
That’s when quiet time comes into play.
Quiet time replaces nap time in the afternoon. In quiet time, a child plays with low-key toys or activities and takes a (safe) little break to reset for the rest of the day.
Quiet time is just as crucial as nap time – to kids and caregivers.
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?
I’ve got answers, help, ideas, everything. It’s coming.
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Tip #1 – Don’t feel guilty about quiet time
There is nothing wrong with quiet time and you are not wrong for needing it or expecting it.
In a world that is constantly telling parents to “take care of you” and find some self care time – that’s exactly what quiet time is. We need and deserve even the smallest break during the day to reset and recharge.
This also isn’t a bad 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 value your own need to rest, relax and have space.
You are not a bad parent for doing quiet time. This is no different than being away from them at nap time… except for the part where they’re awake (wink).
Remember this: You are a great parent who offers a variety of safe options to your child of varying degrees of stimulation. Quiet time exists for a very necessary reason.
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How to set-up quiet time
I will be very honest: this part didn’t come easily to my family and it was a bit of a hot mess until we were forced to stay home in March 2020 and I knew I had to get this going right.
I had to set up some firm, clear, and consistent boundaries on what quiet time would look like in our house which at that point included one napping child, two quiet time kids, a husband working from home, and me running my website and Instagram during afternoon naps.
Our quiet time schedule:
- 1:00 – 2:00 pm Alone playtime in bedrooms (quietly)
- 2:00 – 2:30 pm Specific quiet time activities downstairs with our bin of supplies (they are “together” for this part but still on the quieter side)
- 2:30 pm – 3:00 pm Screen time (yup, I use screens as a tool and this is a time in the day when screens help me parent)
Why this system works…and why it didn’t before
In the past, a two-hour quiet time block was a pie in the sky dream for me.
Two hours was roughly what I got as a break during nap time and I needed to recreate that and maintain the status quo. But nobody could make it that long.
Asking my kids to play quietly in their rooms for 2 hours… it wasn’t happening, it wasn’t giving anyone a restful break, and it wasn’t a happy time.
But I refused to give up and give in to a life with no break afternoon.
The shift I made: I separated the two-hour block into the three manageable chunks of time you saw in the section above this (at least I’m hoping you did during the skim scrolling of this post).
The three block system where quiet time follows a routine, predictable, and easy-to-live with pattern. The key for me was going from one large 2-hour block down to three smaller blocks of time (but still for 2 hours).
It changed everything for us.
A play by play of quiet time
Here’s a better and more detailed break down of what my kids are doing during the Three Block Quiet Time.
1:00 – 2:00 pm: In-Room Playtime
My kids were 5 and 7 (at the time of posting) but had been doing “afternoon in their room” alone play since they were about 3.5 – 4 years old.
Playing independently in their rooms was not a new concept for them. If playing independently is a hard skill for your child, check out my post on helping kids build their ability to play alone.
Of course use best judgment with your kids, safety proof their rooms, and make sure you are still supervising as needed. We do not have a play room or basement so all my kids’ toys are in their bedrooms.
My kids have clocks in their rooms and can both identify “2:00.” The sound of their foot steps rumbling out their bedroom doors at 2 pm on the dot will forever be imprinted on my brain.
If your child cannot identify 2:00 pm on a clock, you can use a “Time to rise” style clock or a visual timer.
2:00 – 2:30 pm: Quiet Time Activities
For this thirty minute chunk, I put together a basket of quiet things my kids could play with quietly in our family room. Things like puzzle books, workbooks, solo games, coloring pages, etc.
During this chunk of time, we did have to work on what “quiet time” looked and sounded like when another child was in the room. Like all things parenting: modeling and boundaries were key.
RELATED: I have for more awesome quiet time bin items. Check out these 3 great lists: board games for kids, puzzles/logic games, and truly awesome books kids can get lost in.
2:30 – 3:00 pm: Screen Time
Finally, at 2:30 pm, they’re allowed to turn on a parent approved show. Update: This is now their Nintendo Switch time.
I view quiet time as mandatory – this helps our house run. So if my kids haven’t fulfilled the requirements of quietly play in their room or quietly working in the quiet time bin, then screen time isn’t available. They use what should have been their screen time to go back and fulfill the quiet time portion of the day.
I think of this like I would a job: If I goof around and don’t get my work done, I have to stay late or go back and finish that work. This isn’t punitive, it’s the nature consequence.
Let me tell you: This happened once. One time they didn’t take the quiet time rules and boundaries seriously and they had to try again for greater success. They got the memo.
RELATED: Wondering about my screen time policy? Check out this post on managing screen time.
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Check out “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” for advice from tabies to big kids
Age to start quiet time
For my kids, we started a version of this system when they dropped that PM nap – around age 4 to 4.5. It didn’t become this full model until recently.
When they started dropping that afternoon nap, instead of making a big deal about it or a big to do, I maintained the routine and system they were used to: we still went to their room each day at the same nap time (now quiet time).
Once they had fully dropped the nap, I formally introduced “quiet time.”
I never let on that there was another option than to spend the afternoons apart for a bit (wink) and I’m fine with this. I need this time to take a break, rest, and run my business.
I’m a better parent when I get a chance to sit.
As we phased into quiet time, I used the same verbiage with each kid: “This is your time. You can choose to nap, rest, or play quietly. This is YOUR time. Have fun. I’ll be back to get you when quiet time is over.”
Quiet time is your union break
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 solo commute, bathroom breaks without an audience, walking around the cubicles to stretch legs, water cooler talk, lunch in peace, and 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 I encourage parents to use this afternoon time as their break time. Take this time for you. Don’t clean, don’t do dishes, don’t do the laundry. Focus on you and recharging / refilling your tank.
**BUT WHAT ABOUT HOUSEWORK? I do that in front of the kids and with the kids. I want them to know how much work goes into making a house run smoothly and teach them to do that work too.
No nap time or quiet time fairy comes and magically cleans at this house. We all work together.
Final plug for quiet time
Firm. Clear. Consistent boundaries. Let your kids know the expectation.
Have a flow and order of events (remember – my system goes room time, quiet time activities, screen time).
Get into a rhythm and make it known to your kids just how important this time is for everyone and that it’s not budging. Firm, clear, consistent boundaries.
Quiet time is really important to my well-being each day – so I know first hand just how much we all need this break.
Frequently Asked Questions
There’s a lot of variation and nuance to this so I’ll paint a few scenarios that I’ve heard work from other families: if the two siblings are both doing quiet time, you might consider staggering their three block system. One does quiet time bin while the other has room play. Then flip flop. If one sibling naps and one is quiet time, set up a quiet time space in a safe area where you can still have a break. Consider having them bring 1-2 toys with them.
Independent play is a skill, and you can help grow this skill with your child if it is not something they have learned. I have a five step plan for helping kids grow their independent play skills – and quiet time is a great place to start building the independent play skill.
It really depends on the child and their individual sleep/rest needs. Two of my kids napped age 4. The other was nearly 5 when she stopped napping…. and even then, I’d find her sleeping a lot during “quiet time.”
Susie Allison, M. Ed
Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.
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