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How to do quiet time with toddlers

Today I’m sharing everything I’ve tried and learned about quiet time for toddlers. This break in our day is essential for my sanity and theirs. This post was originally shared in 2018 and updated in 2022.

My two biggest motherhood sanity savers? A gym with daycare and quiet time.

I was first introduced to the idea back with Lincoln was still a baby and a friend in Ohio was talking me through her process of sending her kids off to play by themselves after lunch. She talked about the value of independent play, a little mom-time in the middle of the day, and a great way to help kids not fight naps.

Today we’re talking all about quiet time. Right now my kids at home are 2 and 4. One naps and the other doesn’t. We’ve done some version of quiet time for two years now in both homes where kids have their own room, and a small apartment where we live on top of each other.

What is quiet time for kids?

Quiet time usually refers to a period in the afternoon where kids play independently without adult intervention.

For us, quiet time is the two hours after lunch (usually from 12:30 – 2:30 or 1-3pm) when my 2.5 year old naps and my 4 year old plays by himself in the living room.

We have been doing a version of quiet time since Lincoln started pushing his naps later in the afternoon as a two year old.

What are the benefits of quiet time?

1. A Break for moms

There is the obvious benefit for moms of having a break in the middle of the day when your child stops napping. I find I am a more patient, engaged mom if I’ve had a little bit of time to collect myself and spend without meeting the needs of little people. For me, to get this benefit I need at least half an hour of quiet time in the afternoon.

2. Added structure for kids

Kids also benefit from quiet time. This time adds structure to their day, which gives them a sense of security, stability, and confidence. Toddlers don’t have a lot of control over their own lives and knowing what to expect from even parts of their schedule decreases the likelihood of them trying to force control on other issues.

3. Independent Play + Self Regulation

Quiet time also reinforces independent play. Benefits of independent play include self confidence, increased imagination (which builds your toddler’s brain), better self-regulation (control over feelings), stronger problem solving abilities, as well as more calmness and patience. We see a huge change in Lincoln on days we skip quiet time. While he is not napping during his afternoon quiet time, if he misses it he is more irritable, more prone to emotional meltdowns, less cooperative, and more tired.

Quiet time is a great time for your toddler to recharge emotionally partway through the day.

Have I convinced you to start implementing quiet time yet?

Tips for quiet time / How we run our quiet time

  1.  audiobooks: This is my biggest recommendation for quiet time. There are 3920 reasons you should read aloud to and play audiobooks for your kids, but beyond those benefits, it just makes quiet time easier. Kids are less likely to get bored while they play alone and more likely to enjoy their time. It is also an excellent way to encourage children to relax while still being entertained. Your child might look forward to quiet time because of the stories they are listening to. Depending on the age of your child, find an audio option that doesn’t require you to come in and adjust/restart a new story. We love “Story Party” on audible for new listeners because each chapter is a 45 minute collection of short stories all around one topic. It can also be helpful to listen to an audiobook of a story your child is already familiar with to start with.
  2. timer: It can be helpful for a child to know when quiet time will be over. We don’t do this (my children can’t read a clock yet) but occasionally I will go set a timer for the last 15 minutes, letting Lincoln know that there are 15 minutes left and once the timer goes off and his toys are picked up, we can have our afternoon snack.
  3. consistency: Do quiet time everyday. We do it on weekends. We do it on vacation. We do it at grandparents. Of course, there will be times when you can’t or don’t want to do quiet time (flying with kids, a day at Disneyland, etc) but if you can, keep it consistent.
  4. bribery: Our four year old earns a quiet time treat if he stays on the rug for the duration of quiet time. Our exceptions are if he needs to go to the bathroom or if he gets hurt. This has been very effective for us – but only when I’m consistent about NOT giving him a treat if he comes in to ask for help playing or to chat. We always do snack time after quiet time so either way he gets to eat after quiet time but the treat is usually a piece of candy, or maybe a cookie we made earlier in the week.
  5. toy options: Letting your child pick which toys are options for quiet time are a great way to give them some control over the situation. Our toys are all divided into bins and Lincoln selects which two bins he wants to have out to play with during quiet time. You can also have specific toys that are only for quiet time or rotate through different bins to keep things new. For us, Lincoln always plays with magna-tiles and the bin of cars and trucks while listening to his audiobook. Every once in awhile he’ll choose blocks over the magnetic tiles but it’s been this same basic combo for the last year. I recommend finding open-ended toys to use for quiet time (no right way to play with them)
  6. start small and extend the time: If you haven’t been doing quiet time before, it is unlikely your child will play independently for two hours straight the first time you try. Start with something as small as ten minute increments and gradually build up.
  7. on kids playing together: Right now my plan is not to let my kids play together for quiet time as Adelaide starts to drop her nap and keep quiet time in separate spaces. But take that with a grain of salt because that isn’t our current situation – it might work really well for some people. It depends on your goals for quiet time (mom break vs. kids’ down time) and how your kids play together (mine still need quite a bit of refereeing from me). I can also see letting my kids doing part of quiet time together if they didn’t spend all of the rest of their day together (ie: if one or both of them was in school for part of the day).  My biggest concern here is letting kids play together during quiet time doesn’t allow for the benefits of recharging, independent play, and increased self regulation.

How to transition from nap time to quiet time with toddlers

Let them play in their cribs before naps

We start “quiet time” with our kids as part of nap time with the rule “you don’t have to sleep, but you do need to stay in your crib.” We put toys and books in the crib (along with the child) and leave the room.

This reduced the fighting of nap time dramatically for us because there was plenty for Lincoln to do in his crib until he got tired.

He continued to nap, just after playing for an hour or so. This was particularly helpful during different toddler sleep regressions when they fight naps. I reminded myself that he didn’t need to sleep, it just mattered that he was in his crib for the allotted time. If he fell asleep too late in the afternoon, I would wake him up after an hour in order to maintain a regular bedtime in the evening. My general rule is that quiet time is two hours and if he’s asleep I wake him up after the two hours regardless of the time he fell asleep. I make exceptions when he’s sick, if we have a late night that evening, if he’s behind in sleep, or if I just want a few more minutes of quiet.

Move the Crib Mattress to the Floor: 

For our third child, he has just started transitioning from naps to quiet time. For awhile I moved his mattress out of his crib to the floor at the start of quiet time. He would usually spend the first 30-45 minutes of quiet time playing on the floor with his toys and then he’d curl up on his mattress and fall asleep. Now he’s transitioned to this toddler mat so he just uses that. I like this better than keeping him in his crib because he doesn’t fight it as much and gives him more independence around the room. That said, we don’t have a lot of toys in his room and there isn’t much for him to get into. This might not work well for some bedroom situations. 

Let them play independently in their room after short naps

For awhile we had the opposite problem where Lincoln, at 2, was waking up early from his naps after about an hour. At that point I’d go in and explain it was still time for sleeping but offer quiet time as an alternative (“its still quiet time so you can stay in your your crib and go back to sleep or get out and have quiet time where you can play with your toys by yourself”). This made quiet time a fun, positive alternative and something he was always excited to choose. We do this with our now 2 year old when she wakes up after a short nap and while she only lasts 15 minutes or so of playing by herself after a nap, its a good start.

When Lincoln was in a toddler bed and moving toward completely dropping naps, it was no longer a requirement for him to stay in his bed. I set out toys for him to play with and said “it’s quiet time. you can play and if you get tired you can lie down with your blankets and take a nap.” Some days he played the full 2 hours. Some days he plays for a little and then naps. And some days he lies down and stares and the ceiling while listening to his book.

Quiet time in small spaces

When we lived in our home in Ohio and each child had their own room, quiet time was straightforward. In our apartment in Boston where our kids share one bedroom we’ve tried a few different configurations for quiet time. Here’s what we’ve done and how it worked.

  1. Being in the same room for quiet time/naps: We started off with this setup. Adelaide (1 year at the time) would go down easily in her crib with a sippy cup of milk. I turned on “Scripture Scouts” (a favorite Christian set of stories + songs and a great pre-curser to audiobooks) and asked Lincoln to lay in his bed for a few minutes and then get up and play if he didn’t want to nap. Lincoln was compliant and Adelaide was usually asleep before I even finished getting out toys. This was a great setup initially because it meant I could eat lunch, clean up, chat with a friend in the living room, and have free reign of the rest of the apartment during quiet time. The drawbacks to this setup were that that Lincoln needed to be quiet, sometimes Lincoln would wake Adelaide up with his playing, and often every toy accessible in their room was out by the end of quiet time. It also started to get harder as Adelaide got older and was less prone to fall asleep right away. She would get distracted by Lincoln playing and not want to go to sleep. This setup can work (it worked well for us for about six months) but overall I decided the drawbacks weren’t worth the benefit of me having access to the kitchen/living room during quiet time.
  2. Doing quiet time in the living room or home office: Our living room is open to our kitchen and combined they are maybe 250 square feet. We now routinely have Lincoln do quiet time on the area rug in the living room. This gives him access to couches + pillows to build forts and climb in addition to an open area to build with magnatiles and play with cards. The rug also offers some confinement/limitation on the space. It takes more control for him to stay on the rug than stay in his room but this works for us. Usually I put Adelaide down for her nap with a sippy cup of milk and a stack of books in her bed. While she is reading or drinking I gather Lincoln’s two bins of toys and get him set up for quiet time while he finishes lunch. I finish eating my lunch or straightening up the kitchen while she is getting settled (she often has a request for more milk, a different book, or help with her blankets in the first five minutes). If Lincoln is done with lunch he’ll start quiet time on the rug while I’m still finishing up in the kitchen and I’ll usually keep chatting with him until we turn on his audiobook and then I’ll head back to the office to work or the bedroom to take a nap. On days that I need to do things in the kitchen or I’m back and forth between the bathroom and office, it is distracting for Lincoln. I try to give him the full time alone in the living room. The hardest is when Ben is home during quiet time because he is less consistent about not engaging Lincoln and Lincoln is more excited about the fun of having Dad home.

If you can, find a consistent and contained space for quiet time in your home. This can be a full room, a sectioned-off area, or a rug.

Favorite Toys for Quiet time:

Here is a full list of our favorite open-ended toys for toddlers   but the most used ones for quiet time in our house are Magnatiles and a bin of cars. I also like to keep coloring supplies and some puzzles available.

Quiet Time Takeaways:

  • Give toy options or have special quiet time toys
  • Have some listening material playing – this helps children resistant to naps be more okay with lying down and being still because they are still listening to something.
  • Keep a consistent and contained area (crib or bedroom).
  • Be consistent.
  • Be patient – building this routine from scratch takes time.

Conclusion

Quiet time is a life saver in our house and in the homes of all the friends who use it. If you’ve been considering implementing quiet time for your kids, I hope this was helpful!

If you have any additional questions I didn’t cover OR new ideas and tips that you use in your home, please leave them below!

5 Comments

  1. I love gym with daycare, but just fyi, there are No gym daycares in the new Hampshire, MA or vermont areas. I have searched high and low through Google and phone calls to personally ask. When i lived in utah i got spoiled having gym and daycare together. It was essential for my sanity too. We moved to vermont and those days are now over. No daycare and no more working out. I miss it. We live close to NH and no gym daycare there either. Willing to travel. If you get that in the college town you live, take advantage of it. You may no longer get it again if you choose to stay out here.

    1. Elisabeth McKnight says:

      oh no! Have you checked out YMCAs in your area? When we were in Manchester, NH last summer we loved the YMCA there with childcare while we exercised and they have them here in MA as well!

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