Nap time is something parents of toddlers look forward to with enthusiasm. Those few precious moments when we’re not being followed around by a tiny person who is in constant need of our help and attention are what get us through the rest of the day. So, when toddlers start to phase out of naps, a new plan to reclaim our peace is in order. It may not be an easy transition, but with a strategic approach, it is possible!
My children were champion nappers. I could look forward to 2-3 hours of solitude every afternoon—until the dreaded declaration: “I don’t want to take a nap anymore!” That’s when I knew it was all over for me. No more powering though work deadlines, no more uninterrupted showers and definitely no more midday Netflix and chill sessions. It seemed that quiet time was a thing of the past.
For a while, I accepted the change, staying up late at night as an alternative. That didn’t work out well. I was tired and even more drained by the end of each day. My body ultimately caught up, and I found myself falling asleep during story time at night, which meant there were no moments to myself—ever.
I’ve always been a softy, but my crankiness wasn’t doing anybody any good. I decided to implement quiet time. It began with letting them do crafts or watch a show, but that was leading to disastrous results in the form of giant messes and meltdowns when I turned off the television. I finally turned to expert advice and toughened up a little, teaching my children that everyone needs calm time—even mommy—and that it was going to be a new rule in our home.
What I learned is that kids can be very receptive to change when you help them understand the why’s and remain consistent.
When work-and-stay-at-home-mom Jackie Freeman’s 2.5-year-old daughter began phasing out of naps, she says she basically gave her autonomy to choose if she wanted to lie down and close her eyes or if she wanted to play quietly in her room. "She could look at her books, play with her toys, and I even left her some washable markers and paper (scary!),” she says. She further explained that everyone needs some quiet time to have the energy to keep playing later in the day, even grownups!
Feelings of guilt are normal during this transition because we’re basically doing the opposite of what parents are wired to do—pay constant attention to our children. But it’s important to remember that teaching and modeling self-care and independence are critical life skills. Mother of three Jennifer Gildea Craven says, “I need that time alone […]. It’s just a short break where I don’t feel 'on' or needed. I also think quiet time is a great way for kids to learn to be alone! And alone is fine. Alone is good.”
While many parents, like myself, may initially turn to screens to gain quiet time, remember that the goal is teaching independence and reducing the need for stimulation.
“Low stimulation settings promote creativity and allow the brain to consolidate learning," says Victoria Dunckley, MD, child psychiatrist, screen time expert and author of Reset Your Child's Brain. "Resist the urge to hand your child a device to occupy them or to get them to settle down. Because screen time triggers fight-or-flight reactions and drains cognitive reserves, even small amounts can lead to meltdowns, defiance and disrupted sleep later in the day.”
As an alternative, she advises parents to have a few screen-free activities at the ready, like books, puzzles and building blocks, and to play with your child initially to help them transition.
I won’t say that the shift from naps to quiet time is an effortless adjustment, though with dedication, some solid tactics and knowing you’re not alone in this, you will find peace once again.