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When Your Kid Stops Napping, Institute Quiet Time

Little boy lying on his back reading a book.
Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock

It might seem like the end of the world when your toddler suddenly refuses to nap, but it doesn’t have to be. Naptime can, and should, become quiet time for your kids and you.

In all seriousness, naptime is sacred. Who doesn’t like a reprieve from the endless stimulation of tending to toddlers? Finally, a chance to catch up on chores, respond to emails, make yourself lunch, take a shower, or collapse on the couch and snooze a bit yourself. Nobody wants to give that up!

We’re here to tell you that “quiet time” is a great alternative. Your child will get her necessary rest, and you’ll get a chance to catch your breath or get some things done. I wrote this very article while my 3-year-old was having some quality “quiet time” in his darkened room. Some days he naps, and some days he doesn’t. Either way, we set aside that time for quiet and rest.

Let’s take a look at whether your child is ready to give up napping and how to replace it with quiet time.

Time to Ditch the Nap?

There’s a difference between a child who doesn’t want to nap but still needs the sleep and one who’s now capable of going the whole day without it. Toddlers need between 12-14 hours of sleep per day so, even if they’re fighting nap time, they might still need it.

If your child is looking tired, rubbing her eyes, or having lots of meltdowns, it might be worth trying to encourage her to keep napping.

Here are a few tips for rekindling the interest in naptime if your child seems right on the edge:

  • Darken the room: Invest in blackout blinds, curtains, or this easy-to-use blackout window film (it sticks directly to the window and is easy to remove). A completely dark room reminds kids of nighttime and encourages them to fall asleep, even if it’s bright outside.
  • Wear them out: Spend your mornings being super active. Go to the playground, the pool, have a dance party, do whatever it takes to make sure they’re completely exhausted by naptime.
  • Wake them up early: If you want to keep that naptime, wake your kids up early. This will ensure they’re ready to rest in the afternoon.
  • Use a sound machine: It’s hard to tiptoe around a napping toddler—especially if you have older kids, crying babies, or pets at home. Or if the lawn service guy decides to mow right outside your child’s window at naptime. A sound machine blocks out other sounds so your toddler can keep snoozing.

If you’ve tried all these tricks and your child is still refusing to nap, then it’s time to move on. But don’t worry—all is not lost. We’ve got some creative ideas to keep you sane, even with an active toddler.

Why Quiet Time?

Many cultures have a regular rest time incorporated into their daily schedule. Spain refers to this as “siesta,” and in Italy, it’s called “riposo.” Stores often shut down for an hour or two after lunch so everyone can rest.

In the U.S., though, we’re usually always on the go and everyone—adults included—can quickly get burnt out. Establishing the habit of quiet time for your kids at an early age is a great way to encourage them to pause and slow down. And remember, you need it as much as they do.

The Transition: Naptime to Quiet Time

Make quiet time at the same time as naptime and be consistent. Turn on a low light next to their crib or bed. Give them a stack of picture books, coloring books and crayons, Play-Doh, or another quiet activity. Try to create a similar feel and vibe to naptime, but let your child know he can look at pictures, draw, and be creative during this time.

Specify how long quiet time will be, even if your child doesn’t have a concept of time yet. We suggest limiting quiet time to one hour, especially in the beginning. You don’t want them to get too bored or frustrated and end up hating quiet time. You can also get a ready to rise alarm clock, which sounds a gentle alarm and turns a specific color when it’s time to get up. Try playing soothing, relaxing music during this time to help your child embrace the calm.

We suggest avoiding screen time, like watching movies or playing with iPads. Screen time is still stimulating and leaves them feeling unrested. Also, if you make quiet time screen time, that’s a pattern they’ll start to expect. If you let them explore the quiet, instead, their creativity will emerge.

Little girl sitting on her bed inside a tent fort looking out a window.
Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock

Some people think quiet time should be spent in bed, encouraging your child to rest. Others let their kids do anything, as long as they stay in their rooms. In the end, it depends on your child. If you trust them to build a tower out of blocks without making too much noise, then go for it. But if you want to have consistent quiet time—especially if you also have a baby who needs to sleep—encourage them to stay in their beds during quiet time.

Above all, try to make quiet time enjoyable. Rotate books, so they have something different to look at each day or buy them a special toddler flashlight they can use only during quiet time. You can also set up a small tent for them to hang out in to make quiet time feel special.

Altering Your Child’s Bedtime

Your goal is to help your toddler get 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Once you ditch the daytime nap, you have to move those extra hours to nighttime sleep.

Aim to put your toddler to bed earlier—you might have to move dinner a bit earlier to do so. Also, allow them to sleep in a bit later in the morning, especially at the beginning.

Making Up for Lost Time

If you’re feeling frazzled by the end of the day because quiet time isn’t as long or as restful as naptime was, don’t worry. Here are a few tips to get some extra work done while tending to your kids.

  • Babywearing: Toddlers aren’t too big to be worn on your back. You can strap them up there and do some vacuuming, dishes, laundry—you name it. They also get a bit more rest time in the process.
  • Prep dinner in stages: If cooking dinner at the end of the day is too overwhelming, consider prepping it throughout the day. You can chop come veggies while your toddler is having a snack, and then do some precooking while he’s eating lunch. Slow cookers are a lifesaver, allowing you to throw together an entire meal first thing in the morning before you’re too exhausted. If all else fails, try a meal delivery service. This can be helpful when your kids are young, and you don’t have as much time for cooking.
  • Save screen time for later in the day: Try to fill the morning with as many activities as possible—getting outdoors, going to the library, toddler tumbler class, and so on. After quiet time, you can work on a project together, such as Play-Doh, drawing, or painting. Use screen time as a last resort, allowing it only when you need to put the final touches on dinner or to have a quiet moment yourself.
  • Establish an early bedtime: We mentioned above that your child would most likely need an earlier bedtime once he gives up napping. This ensures he still gets enough sleep, and you can catch up on work or your own quiet time. Embrace it!

Losing the beloved naptime might have you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, but all is not lost! Establish quiet time early on, and you’ll still get that much-needed rest for years to come. And everyone could benefit from a little siesta in the afternoon.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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