Well, it’s finally started happening. My 2 ½ year old has started dropping his nap. He’s been consistently napping for 1-2 hours EVERY afternoon for about 18 months now. It’s been predictable and lovely. A few months ago after our baby was born he skipped his nap one day and then was a mess for three days after. It was obvious he wasn’t ready to let it go yet. My husband and I breathed a sigh of relief.
But then, a few weeks ago, he skipped it again. And this time, there were no dramatics that followed – just a blissfully early and easy bedtime (and he woke up at the regular time the next morning). So we started thinking this might really be it.
I freaked out. I mean, we have a 5 month old. I need that break from my toddler to decompress (and enjoy the baby). So does my husband on the days he’s home in the afternoon (we split afternoons during the week). So I called up a good friend of mine who has a five year old whose been doing “quiet time” for about 3 years. She gave me a lot of tips. I also read this blog post, which gave me some good ideas.
Luckily we had already “toddler proofed” his bedroom (shelves bolted to the walls, outlets covered, breakables gone, etc.). He doesn’t play in there often, so the toys in that room hold some appeal. I went through them and made sure they were in a well-organized fashion. I also tried to make sure they were things that could be played with solo without causing frustration. Every few days I rotate a box of toys so there’s something new and readily accessible. I also take a few books out of the cabinet and set them in an easily visible place.
The environment was prepped. Next step: prepping the toddler.
One day, we explained to him at breakfast that the afternoon would be different. Then we just went for it.
Here’s the routine we’ve settled into these past three weeks:
- Ask him if he wants to bring any toys from downstairs with him for quiet time.
- Go into his room with him and remind him that quiet time is a special time just for him. He can do ANYTHING he wants in his room. The only rule of quiet time is that he has to be alone so that the rest of the family can also have quiet time.
- Remind him of some options he has during quiet time: show him some toys, remind him about all of his books, remind him he can lay down if he gets sleepy, ask if there are any toys he needs help with (for example, setting up his little train set or getting something out of the closet).
- We have an iPod that has “mama stories” on it. These are some of his favorite books that I recorded myself reading. This seems to be a key component for him. Something about having my voice there helps him feel secure. We put it on shuffle and it just keeps playing. We periodically have to come up there to make it skip I’m Going on a Bear Hunt because he’s scared of it now. (Mental note: need to remove that from the playlist).
- We take a timer and set it for 45 minutes and then ask him to push the button on it. Full disclosure: if he’s not complaining as the timer approaches 45 minutes we shut it off. Yes, we’re lying to our child who has no concept of time yet. We’re okay with that. So far he’s frequently stretching quiet time to 90 minutes with no complaints. Once he asks we say, “It’ll be over in a few minutes” then set the timer for 2 minutes and wait for it to beep
- We use a baby gate to block his door. This way he can still see and hear us but he can’t get out of the room.
- If he calls for us, we ask what he needs. If he says, “I’m done” or “Play with me” we remind him that quiet time is a time to be alone and do anything he wants in his own room. We remind him that the timer will tell us when quiet time is over.
- He falls asleep about half of the time. This, in itself, is a minor major miracle. Our son has never fallen asleep without one of us in the room before. This is amazing. I can’t even begin to explain the difference in my sanity from this one small change. Instead of having to lay in a dark room with him for up to 45 minutes praying he’ll fall asleep, I just get quiet time started and if he falls asleep – cool. If not, we have an early bedtime and at least 45 minutes of quiet time in the afternoon.
I love quiet time (so far). He seems really energized by it. He asks me, “How was your quiet time, mama?” when he comes out. He seems really rested the rest of the day. He happily goes to sleep at night. I think alone time and the ability to play independently are important life-skills to have. And, honestly, he has an introvert for a mom who needs a break. It seems to be great for all of us so far. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it lasts.