Quiet Time: Why You Need It and How to Implement It

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Magnetic dinosaur made without instructions, brought to you by quiet time

If you’re ever at home during the day with small or even not-so-small children, this post is for you. Today I’m going to tell you about the most important activity to include in your schedule — quiet time.

When Evan, my oldest son, outgrew his afternoon nap, I panicked. I’d quit my job only a couple months earlier and was new to being a stay-at-home mom.

Although I loved spending more time with the boys, the intense reality of all-day, every-day parenting was settling in. And I was in no way ready to give up the much-needed break I got during afternoon nap time.

I started frantically searching the internet and decided we’d have afternoon quiet time. Simple as that. Except NOT.

It’s one thing to decide YOU’RE going to have quiet time, and quite another to get a 3-year-old on board with that plan.

But we made it through and nearly five years later, quiet time is still a part of our routine whenever we’re spending the whole day together. More on that in a bit.

The Benefits of Quiet Time

Quiet time nourishes your child’s creativity.

Once Evan stopped protesting quiet time, he got good at it. During other times of the day, he might bounce from one thing to the next – “can we play Play-Doh? can we play a game? will you read this book?” – because he could. But during quiet time, with ample time to really focus, his creativity flourished. He’d build elaborate creations out of magnets and Duplos, or complete every puzzle he could find. You know the concept of flow? That state where you become fully absorbed in an enjoyable task? (I talked about it a while back as one of the benefits of drawing.) Quiet time gives your child an opportunity to achieve flow.

Tunnel and bridge made during quiet time

Quiet time teaches your child to tolerate boredom.

Everyone has moments in life where absolute boredom reigns. There is nothing to do and you have no choice but to find a way to pass the time. When your child whines that they’re bored and begs to get out of quiet time, remember you’re teaching a life skill. Even with our now ever-present, endlessly entertaining cell phones, sometimes you don’t get reception, or using your phone would be disrespectful, or you just need a break from staring at a screen.

I always think back to a 12-hour ride through the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was there for work and was traveling with my colleagues from a rural area back to the city. The road was in abysmal condition, unpaved and muddy, full of boulders and ravines. It was way too bumpy to sleep or read, and though I could have popped in some earbuds, it would have been inappropriate and morale-diminishing to isolate myself from my Congolese colleagues. My only option was to follow the bits of conversation I could, look out the window, and be content with my own thoughts. Whenever my kids complain they’re bored, I think of this ride through the Congolese countryside and think, good. You’re developing an important skill.

If you want to know more about the benefits of quiet time, this is a great article.

Quiet time is good for YOU.

There is no trophy for most exhausted, most emotionally depleted mom, but sometimes our culture acts like there is. Women are encouraged to make motherhood all-consuming, sacrificing their own well-being for the supposed well-being of their child. This vein of thinking would view quiet time as a luxury for selfish moms caught up in giving themselves manicures rather than nourishing their child’s growing mind.

I think this is, quite frankly, bullshit. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” It’s true. When I don’t get a break during the day, my patience evaporates, my creativity tanks, and my energy plummets. I need time to recharge. Sometimes I load the dishwasher or make phone calls during quiet time, but other times I nap or read or scroll on my phone. I rest. If manicures are your thing, paint those lovely fingernails of yours without an ounce of guilt. We worship productivity and mother martyrdom at our own peril.

Quiet time is good for your family.

Our kids need to see that every family member’s needs matter. We aren’t doing them any favors when we spend every moment of our day entertaining them – it sends the message that their demands must always be met. Even if we achieve that questionable state of things at home, the world certainly will not (and should not!) accommodate them the same way.

Quiet time gives kids the chance to see that each family member deserves some time and space of their own. When my kids protest quiet time, I flat out tell them I need a break. I want them to know I take time to care for my own needs. I think this is especially important given that our family looks pretty traditional right now – Dad works, Mom stays home to take care of the kids. I’m determined to raise feminist boys, and my sons need to understand I exist for reasons other than being their mother.   

Have I convinced you to implement quiet time at your house? Yes? Good! Now for the practical part.

Tips for Starting Quiet Time

Your child is going to fight it. You are going to triumph.

I remember the earliest days of quiet time. It was ROUGH listening to Evan yell, “Mommy! Mooooommmm-y!” over and over, even when — probably especially when — I’d just gone in, seen everything was fine, and told him I wouldn’t be coming back. A little hand would poke out underneath the door. Various objects would be shoved beneath the door. (Old house = big gaps under doors.) I heard, “Is quiet time almost done?” so many times I wanted to scream.

There were multiple occasions I came close to caving. But I came across a random mom’s advice to stay strong when I googled something to the effect of “kid won’t stop complaining in quiet time.” She reminded me the struggle was worth it. I wish I could find that link now to give her proper credit.

Instead, I’m going to try to pay it forward — if you are currently that mom with a screaming toddler begging to get out of their room, welcome to the club. Your child is doing their job of testing boundaries. Yay, them! You’re doing your job of keeping those boundaries in place. Yay, you!

Have a wind-down routine.

We developed a mid-day rhythm of lunch, books, quiet time. I found that reading books together for twenty minutes or so got the boys in the right frame of mind for solo play time.

Offer your child two hall passes.

Sometimes during quiet time your child will realize the toy they really want to play with is in the basement. Or they’ll need to show you that a crayon broke. Or they’ll build an amazing tower they want you to see at this very moment. I give each kid two “passes” for these types of purposes.

Passes can be a couple cards from a game or two scraps of paper. They can even be two high fives if you find yourself pregnant and already lying down on the couch and too tired to get up to grab passes (been there, done that). When the passes have been used, no more interaction. Whenever the boys came out a third time, I’d firmly say something like, “You’ve used both passes, so you need to go back into your room. I’ll talk to you later. Bye, I love you.” There was some protest, of course, but over time the non-pass interactions diminished  

If you’re someone who really hates being interrupted when you’re trying to recharge, you might want to skip the passes. For us, though, the passes kept quiet time (mostly) battle-free. The boys liked knowing they could pop out of quiet time if needed, but since there were only two such opportunities, they learned to use them judiciously. Maybe the passes are also because I’m a softie when it comes to show-and-tell – when I’m excited about a project, I have to talk to someone about it RIGHT NOW, so I get when Evan doesn’t want to wait another forty minutes to show me an amazing tower.  

Use a timer

When the boys were younger, we used this “okay-to-wake” clock that turns green when they could get up. I was happy to discover it had a “nap” feature that works perfectly for quiet time. I set the clock for the amount of quiet time we’re doing that day — usually around an hour and a half – and, depending on the settings, it either turns green or beeps when the time is done. The boys can see the minutes counting down and know exactly how much time is left.  

Now that the boys are a little older, sometimes I just set a timer on the stove or tell them the end time so they can just look at the clock. The okay-to-wake clock would continue to work perfectly well, too – it’s just is out of batteries at the moment and I haven’t gotten.

It’s okay if you’re not up for making special quiet time bins.

There are lots of great ideas about quiet time activities. I was so fascinated at first that I tried to make different bins for each day of the week and even designate themes. Tuesday = farm animals! But it quickly became too much to manage and I realized Evan didn’t need the bins. He was good at figuring out his own agenda.

Your call on this one – put together bins of quiet-time-only activities if you think your child needs them and if you enjoy doing it. But if you find that task overwhelming or a pain like I did, skip it.

Be okay with quiet-ISH time.

When Mike was working from home last year and Evan was doing first grade online, quiet time was, ironically, the loudest part of Mike’s day. Evan’s room was (/is – it’s now both his and Nate’s room) right above the basement office where Mike worked. He always knew when it was quiet time because of the sounds of metal bookends clanging together as dinosaur jaws, or the crash of Hot Wheels colliding in epic battles.

Apart from nudging Evan toward puzzles, books, or art during this time when Mike worked at home, I’ve never insisted quiet time actually be quiet, just free of screens and electronic toys. Creativity is often loud.

Quiet time is for all ages and occasions.

With my older two boys now in elementary school and Bennett still napping for the foreseeable future, quiet time isn’t currently part of our daily routine. However, we still have quiet time on the weekends if we’re all at home, which is quite common right now with the combination of winter weather and the pandemic. And when we’re on vacation, we often find the right balance of fun and relaxation through an outing in the morning, quiet time at the hotel, and an evening activity/dinner.

I’ll perhaps rebrand quiet time as “chill time” or “down time” as the boys get older, but it’s not going anywhere.

A Recent Example of the Importance of Quiet Time

Yesterday, Evan and Nate had a day of distance learning due to extremely cold weather. Our house was a mess from the weekend, I’d stayed up way too late Sunday night, I had trouble getting Evan logged into his account, and my attempts to manage two kids’ distance learning schedules and logistics came on top of the normal work of caring for a baby.

Quiet time saved me. At 1:00, Evan took the basement, Nate took the boys’ shared room, and I took the couch. After a couple interruptions—one being a random kid’s voice which I groggily figured out was coming from the iPad as the kid told told Evan he was still logged into Google Meet 😆– I dozed for half an hour. Not a huge amount of time, but enough to take the edge off. The rest of the afternoon felt much more bearable and I even had the energy to help the boys tackle some piles in their room.

Quiet time is one of the best routines you can create for your family. Do you have any reflections? Or your own quiet time tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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