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Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Quiet Time" for Toddlers

Making our son's morning Quiet Time part of our routine has drastically improved how we start our day as a family. Theodore typically plays alone in his room for at least 15-30 minutes (sometimes up to an hour!) which allows me to get my coffee, breakfast, and read my daily devotional, pray, or just have some quiet time of my own. I am naturally not a morning person, so having a few minutes to myself before starting the day is really essential to getting off on the right foot. Quiet Time routine also teaches our son that independence is a good thing, and having his own environment that is safe to explore on his own is a real confidence builder. 



The first time I heard about implementing this type of routine into our day, I thought, "Yeah right!!" But eventually, Theodore gave us some signs that a short period of daily alone time might be beneficial to him. It also helps me get my day going as well, so it's a win-win! I looked into other moms' methods, and implemented things I thought would work for our family. I learned a lot through the process! In hopes that our experience might help someone else, I decided to share the main points.

Im no expert, but....

Think of how many times a day a toddler hears the word "no." Or is asked to stop doing what they are doing. 

"Don't touch that, it's hot."
"Get out of there, you'll make a mess"
"Stay close to mommy."
"What's in your mouth?"
"Come hold my hand."
"Share that with your friend/brother/sister/etc."
"Be careful!"

The list goes on and on. Think of how you would feel, as an adult, if someone followed you around all day long and interrupted you, telling you not to do every little thing you are doing.

It would drive you absolutely bonkers! 

Putting a young child into a safe environment where they can make choices on their own, with zero parental input, can truly help them flourish. They get to experience making their own choices, and a sense of accomplishment, knowing that they did something all by themselves and they didn't need mom or dad. This can be a positive and refreshing moment for them, and doing it in a structured way makes it so much more than the small moments they may have alone during their day otherwise.

I think Quiet Time also contributes to helping them mature in other areas of their lives as well. For example, choosing to play independently in the livingroom or  backyard while mom cooks dinner, or dealing with big emotions and over-stimulation. Their room becomes a fun and safe space for them. Sometimes they may even decide to go have quiet time on their own during other parts of the day! 

Some Do's and Don'ts that I think are realistic and helpful in guiding a toddler to obtain confidence while learning something new:

Do:

-Make the desired behavior a positive experience. Help him/her understand that Quiet Time is a good thing. (Below, I share the details of how we did this for Theodore)

-Make his bedroom or play area a safe place. This is easy for us because we already have a montessori style bedroom (I highly recommend!) for Theodore. So there are no cords, furniture with small parts, heaters, fans, uncovered outlets, furniture that could tip over, or long drapes. You could try using your child's bedroom, but you may need to make some adjustments before leaving your child alone. You could also try using some other area of the house that your child enjoys spending time in. I like using Theodore's bedroom simply because I know it is safe, and because it is his own special space that he is already comfortable in. 

-Keep the "toy closet" or shelf/bin/box/etc minimal. We keep about 10 books and 4-5 toys in the closet at a time. We use only the bottom two shelves, which are the perfect height for Theodore to get his toys all on his own. Every 3 or 4 days, I rotate the toys by removing them and putting them in a bin in the garage, and replace them with a few toys he hasn't seen in a while. (More details about our toy closet below)

-Allow the child to have some control over the matter. Ask them if they are ready for quiet time. Let them choose their own toys. Let them turn on their bedroom light, if desired, and let them be the one to close the door when you leave. Theodore also enjoys helping clean up his Quiet Time toys, and putting them away after he's finished. I think this helps him know that he is part of the decision-making process.

-Always use the same phrasing. Whether you call it "Quiet Time," "Alone Time," "Independent Play," "(Your Child's Name) Time," or whatever, use the same title each time. Also, let them know you'll be back in a little while. "I'll see you soon." or "I'll be back when you're all finished with quiet time."

-Accept small victories. There are some mornings where your child may only play alone for a few minutes, or may not want quiet time at all. That's ok. They are individuals too, and sometimes they have their own ideas of what they want to do.

-Choose your timing wisely. Begin Quiet Time during a time of day when the house is naturally quiet and calm, so they don't feel like they are being left out of something fun.

Don't:

-Don't force it. It's ok to let your child experience a moment or two of confusion or frustration the first few times, as they learn this new skill of playing on their own. When you walk out of the room, they don't understand what's going on, and they may respond by protesting. It's actually good for them to learn how to process these emotions on their own, and to decide for themselves that they are safe, and begin to entertain themselves. With adequate preparation, and if your child is ready, this should only happen a few times, and shouldn't last more than a minute or two. However, if your child is showing clear signs of resistance to the experience, perhaps they are not ready for Quiet Time. Or maybe you need to make adjustments that cater to their specific needs, like trying it at a different time of day, or after a snack. It's good to experiment and try different things. But if it's not working for your child. Don't force it. The last thing they need is to feel abandoned, or like they are being punished.

-Don't leave your child fully unattended. When Theodore has quiet time, I have quiet time also. I keep the house quiet so I can hear every little thing he is doing. I leave his door closed so that my movements and noises aren't a distraction to him, but I stay in the near vicinity to his bedroom the whole time. If he gets super quiet, I put my ear to the door to try and listen better, usually this means he is just reading books, but if I can't hear him turning pages, you can bet I'm opening the door to check on him.

-Don't abuse your child's independence by using quiet time too often, or by introducing new and exciting toys when you should be interacting and playing with them instead.


This is how our personal experience with Quiet Time began, and how we maintain it as a staple part of our routine:

Why we decided to begin:
We started Theodore's morning Quiet Time when he was around 19 months (he is now 22 months). He had dropped his morning nap weeks prior, but he was still having a weird fussy period in the morning when I was trying to cook breakfast and get ready for the day. A few times, I put him in his room thinking he needed a nap, and he ended up just playing for a while, then wanting to come back out a few minutes later. I realized that maybe it wasn't exactly that he was tired, but more that he just wanted some time alone. Some quiet time. And I get it. Because when he's in the bathroom or my room while I'm getting ready, every other sentence out of my mouth is me telling/asking him to stop getting into everything! So no wonder he wanted to get away from me, I was a real buzz kill!

How we started the process:
Since we had already adopted somewhat of a "follow the child" approach when it comes to milestones, sleep schedules, feeding paterns, etc. I applied it to this situation as well. I had already heard about teaching toddlers quiet time (and honestly thought it was sort of unrealistic), but I thought maybe it was a good time for us to try. He was kind of doing it on his own, anyways. I decided to follow his lead. Shortly after this first bout of fussiness started, I stocked the bottom two shelves of our linen closet with fully age appropriate, quiet, open ended toys. I chose only things that I felt were completely safe, no small parts or strings, and would not create frustration if they didn't "work," or he could not operate them without help.

The first morning, before the time I expected him to begin fussing, I took him to the closet and said he could choose a toy to play with in his room. The whole time we headed to the closet I was positive and cheerful. I said, "Let's go see what's in the toy closet today! Do you want to pick out a special toy for quiet time? Quiet time is going to be part of our routine now." 

I helped him get his special toy into his room (and I added a few that he hadn't chosen) and I said, "It's your Quiet Time now. Enjoy your toys and books, and I'll be back in a little while." I closed the door on my way out, and at first he ran to the door and sounded upset for just a moment, but then quickly decided that his special toy was really interesting, and went immediately to play with it. I set the timer for 3 minutes. My goal was to return to him before he got upset or felt like he had been forgotten. Once the timer went off, I went in and said "Great job at playing by yourself! You did a wonderful Quiet Time!" and he looked at me like I was crazy and continued playing with his toy. This showed me that he was very confident and absolutely did not feel that he needed me in that moment.

So this process repeated every day, and I increased the timer by 1-2 minutes each time, until he was consistently playing for more than 15 minutes every day. I rotate the toys in the closet for new ones on a regular basis, so there is always something fresh in there. I use toys that we have dubbed as specifically for Quiet Time. He doesn't have free access to them 24/7, so each time he sees them, they seem fresh and exciting, it is a positive reinforcement every time he gets to play with them. 

Quiet time now, 3 months into it:
Quiet Time has become something Theodore and I both look forward to now. Sometimes he even initiates it by leading me to the toy closet. He often will play for well over 30 minutes before coming out of his room. He can't quite fit his hand all the way around his bedroom doorknob yet to open it, but he knows that if he goes to the door and yells "mama!" or knocks on it, that it will be opened immediately. This is practically the same as opening it himself, he is just using his communication rather than his hand to open it. So he never feels like he's stuck or trapped in there. Quiet time always ends on his terms. Whether thats 5 minutes, or an hour. If I don't come and get him for some other reason first, he has confidence knowing that all he has to do is say the word, and Quiet Time is over.

Obviously, what works for our family may not work for yours. We are all so unique, with children whose needs are vastly different. But hopefully through my trials and experiences, other parents can find hope, and maybe even fresh ideas to try something new that they've never tried before. When something isn't working for me, I love to have fresh thoughts on the matter, and am always up for a good experiment. I think experimenting is what helps us find better solutions to problems that may otherwise go unsolved. It's tough to address our struggles when we have run out of ideas or plans. So instead of feeling stuck, or frustrated, just try something new. If it works, great! If not, keep trying. And always remember that as long as you're trying, you're doing a great job.






Disclaimer: I am not a child expert, nor do I claim to be. I am simply a parent. I've struggled, and I've found solutions that work for our family. I enjoy sharing these solutions in hopes that they help someone else, too. 


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