7 Tips for Toddler Quiet Time

GREAT article about getting your toddler into the habit of having 2 solid hours of quiet time daily once their regular napping days are done. No mommy & toddler time, no electronics, just some alone time for your child to build up their imagination, become a little more independent, and still allow you to have some time to yourself

This post is in collaboration with VTech Safe & Sound, but obviously this post is all written by me because, shockingly, no one at VTech actually knows how I run quiet time for Ella. (Like a drill sergeant, is how). 

I sometimes hear about these kids who take naps until they go to kindergarten, but. . . I don’t have those kids.

Ella stopped napping consistently before her third birthday, napping only every few days, and then maybe once a week and now she only sleeps about once a month during the afternoon (or in the car, where apparently her carseat has magical powers to knock her straight out).

But I was not about to give up my two hours of precious beloved alone time every day. Also, I need a chance to eat popsicles while no one is watching.

Quiet time ideas for parents of toddlers and preschoolers

So we’ve now been doing quiet time for a solid year. In many ways, I actually prefer quiet time to a nap because I can control how long quiet time is (whereas I can’t really control how long my child sleeps), and it means she usually goes to sleep at night pretty quickly because she’s actually tired.

Also, as Ani’s naps shifted over the past year, I could move quiet time earlier or later depending on Ani’s schedule.

I’ve also noticed that Ella is much better behaved on the days when she has quiet time – I think it’s very relaxing for her to have some time by herself without a little sister around or too much stimulation. She’s able to be pleasant and happy for the rest of the afternoon, whereas on the rare days we don’t have quiet time, she’s generally an emotional wreck by the dinner time.

Anyway, should you be so inclined to have quiet time at your house, here are some of my secrets to success:

Quiet time ideas for parents of toddlers and preschoolers
  1. Get a digital clock. We bought the biggest, cheapest, ugliest digital clock you can imagine at Wal-Mart and I set it to 1:00 at the beginning of quiet time and she knows she can’t come out until 3:00. No matter what time it is when she starts quiet time, the clock says 1:00 (after about a year, the clock started being supremely difficult to set – apparently clocks aren’t meant to be reset twice a day?)
  2. Be consistent. There were many days at the beginning where I thought, “THIS IS MORE WORK THAN IT’S WORTH!” Ella would call out for me so many times or ask how long she had left or cry about it that it would have been way easier to just call it quits. But I didn’t let up – we did it every single day and it was always two hours, and she does it now with totally minimal fuss. Plus, she’s gotten so much better at entertaining herself over the last year, which is worth its weight in gold.
  3. Use a video monitor. If you have a video monitor, it’s SUPREMELY useful for quiet time. I love the VTech Safe & Sound monitor because from the parent’s control I can pan, tilt, and zoom the camera 270 degrees so I can see Ella wherever she is in her bedroom. It also means I can tell if she’s fallen asleep. I can’t tell you how many times I was CERTAIN she’d fallen asleep, and then tried to quiiiietly peek in to see and found her quietly entertaining herself and then she was suddenly reminded I was there and the 400000 questions she wanted to ask me. I also love the talk button so I can speak to her without yelling down the hall or from downstairs (and possibly waking up Ani).
  4. Give them stuff to do. It’s unrealistic, I think, to expect a 2 or 3 year old to entertain themselves without stuff for two hours a day. I check out PILES of library books every week that she can look at on her own. We own half a dozen puzzles from the dollar store that take her forever to do. She has coloring books and crayons. She also has a little CD player and we check out new books with CDs or CDs of songs from the library, which she loves listening to (this is another reason I love the video monitor – I can watch her dance around to music or read her books aloud to herself, and it’s just the cutest thing I’ve ever seen). Sometimes I bring in the bin of Legos or blocks for her or pick up a pack of stickers or watercolors when they’re on after-holiday clearance.
  5. Don’t give them electronics. I’m fairly strict about limiting screen time, so I never ever ever let her use my phone or the iPad or anything like that during quiet time. (This is because if my child is going to watch a movie or play a game, I want it to be EXTRA time I have to myself, not the normal).
  6. Decide what you’re willing to be flexible about. I’m not flexible about the length of quiet time or my involvement (zero!), but I don’t mind if she spends part of her quiet time downstairs in the playroom, goes into my room, or if she stays in her room. As long as she’s not in my office, she basically can roam anywhere in the house. (I also like that the VTech monitor has a rechargeable battery on the parent’s end, so I can take it with me if I go down to the kitchen to cook something or if I’m photographing on the driveway).
  7. Do it on the weekends too. We may change this once we don’t have a real napper, but while we have to be home for Ani to have a nap anyway, Ella does quiet time every single day (on Sundays, because we have church during the time she normally has quiet time, we generally do it earlier or later, depending on whether we try to move Ani’s nap forward or backward. Sunday is also the only day we sometimes make quiet time shorter, like an hour or so. But I never tell her this in advance because then she expects it to be short and it seems like it’s taking forever and she’s asking a thousand times “HOW long am I doing it today?”). Plus, whenever we skip a day for some reason, Ella puts up more resistance the next time because she starts to see it as semi-flexible.
Quiet time ideas for parents of toddlers and preschoolers

Sometimes, Ella asks how long she’ll have to do quiet time. Until you go to college, my little friend. Mama’s never going to be tired of some alone time in the afternoons.

Quiet time ideas for parents of toddlers and preschoolers

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  1. If firmly believe in quiet time (without electronics) as well but haven't done anything about a clock because of the changing time issue. I love your suggestion of just setting the clock to one no matter what! We have a bunch of tiny princesses and those coupled with Lego duplos seem to keep my oldest entertained while my younger one sleeps. Would love to try puzzles but how do you keep Ella from getting frustrated and asking for help with them?

    1. She basically knows I won't come in to help her, so she's learned to just power through, which I'm happy about.

  2. My daughter came home to us from Ethiopia when she was 5 years old. We started a quiet time from the first day she was home (well, she took naps the first couple of weeks because of jet lag and all around trauma). I started by putting six chocolate chips on her dresser and telling her that if she called me or I had to come up to her room because of her behavior, I would EAT one of the chips. At the end of quiet time, she could eat whatever chips were left :-). It worked beautifully!!!! After a while we moved to a sticker chart that she could earn a sticker on if she did a good job and now (she's been home 21 months) she just has quiet time without any reward or incentive :-). ~Pam~

    1. Using food scarcity to control the behavior of a child which comes from a food scarce environment is rather cruel and definitely not something to brag about.

  3. This is just a great idea and I wish I had implemented it with my kids years ago. Have I mentioned lately how amazing I think you are? You are amazing!

  4. This is great! My little one just turned 3 two weeks ago and she is slowly, but surely taking less naps. Quiet time has not been going well, so I am excited to have some new ideas in my arsenal.

  5. The clock idea is genius! I think we even have one in a cabinet which I'm going to go dig in right now to try this afternoon!

  6. My son (3.5) still naps, but on occasion he'll stay up through his "rest time." He knows he doesn't have to sleep, but he has to rest. It works very well for now, but I love the puzzle idea for when it progresses.

  7. I am pregnant with my first, and this post made me realize that maybe my life isn't about to end after all. I've never heard of daily quiet time for young kids. I hoard my alone time and even as I type this I feel more and more relief that it will be possible to still have some time to myself each day. THANK YOU.

  8. This is really helpful, as I live in fear that my two-year-old will give up naps. Did you start out with the full two hours, or did you have to work up to it? I can't imagine my son entertaining himself for that long yet.

    1. In the beginning, she was still napping almost every day, so quiet time started as just the last twenty or thirty minutes of her two hour nap, and then gradually grew into the full two hours with sleeping being the exception rather than the rule.

  9. How did you know that J stopped taking naps THIS week and so I have been searching your archives for that one time you mentioned quiet time for Ella? This is perfect, thanks for saving my "me time".

  10. I have a 6 year old who does well with quiet time while my 3 year old naps. But my 3 year old is starting to not always nap so I think I need to be more diligent with quiet time for both so I can still have my quiet time! Thanks for the tips!

  11. This is one of the best posts I have read about raising children! I don't have children yet and I've never even thought of quiet time for kids before. I am amazed that Ella has been able to entertain herself for 2 hours at a time and I will definitely keep this in mind for future reference.

  12. We are BIG on quiet room time in this house. Because I too absolutely must have it. Though I do need to make a few adjustments, like making his room a more enjoyable place to be (since it's still a post-move unfinished boring mess) and getting a clock/timer. For the most part he does pretty good.

  13. Last comment may have been lost. I'm glad this has worked for you…but for other mums, 2hours is a veeery long time in a child's world. And I would only do half hour tops for a 2 year old. I want to implement quiet time when my boy is older, but I think if parents go 'away' for that amount of time, children feel a little uncertain and unsafe(younger ones especially). I also think you can implement this by being in the same room, if another room doesn't work out. You can still be consistent with expectations: i.e 'quiet time now, mummy is not talking until ____(clock says/music stops etc)'. This comes from my child developmental training when completing my early childhood teacher training. I write not to diss the post, but to offer alternatives to other mums.

    1. Ella is almost four (in two weeks), so she's able to handle it pretty well.

      Also, her door is almost always open, and so is mine (right down the hall), so she knows just where to find me if she needs me, so I'm not as concerned that she feels like she's been abandoned.

  14. (This is because if my child is going to watch a movie or play a game, I want it to be EXTRA time I have to myself, not the normal).

    ^ Best part of the post, in my humble opinion.

  15. I wonder if you could get a stop watch that would run for 2 hours? I have a 29 moth old and a 7 month old, I'm starting classes to get a real estate license in the next month, so having this type of quiet time is a great idea. Currently I do a movie at nap time, but I think that if I can get him to play with toys after the movie is over if he doesn't sleep that would be great. We generally get about 2-3 hours during the day of quiet, assuming that the baby sleeps at the same time the toddler does his quiet/nap time.

    I've also taken to setting up a small table in the kids room, so I can "play" with them while I read for the classes or do listing on etsy, or whatever needs to be done.

  16. We started with a digital clock (and for older children I'm sure it works well) but we really enjoy our child safe sand timer for quiet time. It allows my younger son to more easily understand how much time is left. They have different "times" available. We started with 30 min and have moved up to 60.

  17. Do you have any suggestions on how to have an "open door" quiet time with a 5 and 4 year old?

  18. I stumbled upon your blog and found this article (linked from the one about parenting as an introvert). I loved reading this, because it is exactly what I do with my three boys (ages 2, 4, and 6). Like yours, our quiet time was an extension of the nap times when they actually slept. We do 2 or even 2 1/2 hours. Our boys just know that is what we do. I think it is very good for them to have alone time, to learn to entertain themselves, and to respect that we all need a break/rest. My two older boys share a room, but for quiet time they can't be together (would turn into a wild party!), so we have one downstairs in a separate room (on weekends; it's not an issue when the oldest is at school all day). I don't know how I would get through the day without that wonderful break!

  19. This is so so helpful. Our son is 3.5 and has been napping maybe 3 days a week but we've been working on implementing quiet time every day (if he falls asleep, fine!). It's going ok and he's gotten more used to it but this has some great ideas (like changing out the toys in his room). I am certainly not willing to give up my ~2 quiet block in the afternoon!!

  20. These are great ideas but I’m having a very hard time. So . . . what about the screaming, crying “Mommy” constantly for 2 hours?

  21. I just found this because I was searching how to give a preschooler quiet time. We’ve always done quiet time, and we HAD a grow clock (but she ripped the cord out of it). I never thought of getting an actual clock. I might even get an analog one and then it can be reset tons of times!
    I am fully with you on the needing time, especially and specifically popsicle eating time lol

  22. I really needed this today. My great napper just up and changed my life. I all of a sudden didn’t have any alone time and if I get asked to play legos one more time I’m going to get rid of them! We had a plan kinda like this but somehow got off schedule, starting tomorrow it’s back. I know there will be crying and a million questions but no break is leaving us both a little cookoo! Thank you again for being honest and repeating zero interaction, mom guilt can set in but when you know you’re not the only one who needs alone time it’s a wonderful thing.

  23. I’m a horrible, awful monster because I lock my child’s door for quiet time. *gasp*! But 99% of the time I can hear him playing peacefully on his own, and the 1% I will either respond verbally through the door to his requests (which have grown increasingly polite and non-panicked as he gets used to the routine) or I will address them myself. I’m getting better about being kinder about enforcement, and I’m finally letting go of his having an actual nap every day, even though I psychologically NEED that time to myself each day to be the mother I ought to be for my child..

  24. I am so relieved to find this. When my 2.5 year old, very active boy stopped taking naps I just about had a nervous breakdown. The power struggles . . . so awful. They got a little better when quiet time started, but recently he’s been resisting even those. These tips are helpful, and it’s encouraging to know that there were days you wanted to just give up, too. Because I’m definitely there right now. Especially with potty-training. Yeesh.

  25. The last line cracks me up: “Sometimes, Ella asks how long she’ll have to do quiet time. Until you go to college, my little friend.” My wife will find that line hilarious when I share this article with her. We also do quiet time at the same intervals! But we are now struggling with one jailbreak child, so I appreciate your insights.

    I also thought I would contribute an idea: if it is true that you are resetting an alarm clock “twice a day” did you say?… One way to save time, it has been said is to “automate”. Aka, something that you have to repeat daily, find away for it to repeat on it’s own, and then after a long time you will have saved your self a combined total of “lotsa time”! 🙂 Maybe you could rig up a timer system with a Christmas light timer? All you would need is a lamp that remains in the “on” position and a Christmas light timer. At 1:00 the timer turns the lamp on. At 3:00 it turns it off. Easy, and “‘Zero’ involvement with you”.

  26. Eeks, I find this a bit brutal. I totally relate to needing time and space away from the kids, but being unavailable to them (she knows you’re not going to help her?) is not ideal. Quiet time can still happen in the same room as a parent. You can still do what you need to do without shutting your child in a room for two hours a day. You can pop into another room to eat a popsicle when she’s busy with her puzzle! And there are lots of good parenting experts (even on insta) with good sound (evidence-based and developmentally informed) advice about setting boundaries with children. You don’t need to physically put a boundary around them!

    1. It’s great that every parent gets to figure out what works well for their family. Quiet time has been a huge blessing to our family – both parents and children – but I respect that it’s not for every family.

      And there is a big difference between being completely unavailable and not coming in every five seconds to help with a puzzle that she is absolutely capable of doing with some focus and patience.

      1. Totally agree Janssen! We are still working out the kinks of quiet time with our near 4 year old. She is a very bright, energetic personality who is constantly singing and moving 😬 so I’m trying to be flexible if she wants to sing and dance, as long as she doesn’t wake up her younger sister. But I absolutely would not survive without having a physical barrier between me and my children at least once a day, and I can be both kind and firm about the need for that boundary.

  27. I am a father to a 3.5 yr old daughter. I work from home and my wife is a SAHM. Our daughter has started giving up naps. It is tough to burn that much energy just being at home and with winter snow being outside. How do we start? When we try she just screams and bangs on the door. She is capable to open the door but just because we told her that she can’t come out, she keeps banging the door. I can’t work with that noise and my wife can’t prepare dinner with that constant noise. We keep an eye on her for safety but it isn’t possible to do anything else while she screams for attention through her room. We give her books and puzzles but she doesn’t want to play them without our help. Any tips?

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