This is the last installment in the three part series called The Nap Time Myth. Start here, part 1, and then go here, for part 2. I wrote these 3 posts because I kept hearing the frustration in other parents who did not feel they had any time to themselves due to a lack of nap time or quiet time with their children. I'm a firm believer in gleaning a pearl from others' advice and discarding what I won't use, so if there is a nugget of encouragement or reasoning that you like here, take it and leave the rest.
Some parents assume that once a child gives up their nap, which generally happens anytime between the ages of 2-4, that it was the end of their built in free-time, and I'm here to tell you "Not So!" as long as you're willing to do a little legwork. A good friend of mine said once, "Parenting is 80% getting off the couch, 20% ____ (something else... "dumb luck"? I can't remember. The important part is the high ratio of getting up and taking care of business!)".
Isn't that how it goes? Just when you thought your child(ren) were playing nicely on the floor and you fall into a tired heap on the couch, pick up your coffee or book, something happens. It's usually something you have to get up to take care of. I hate that. I know you do, too. Depending on the time of the day, the amount of sleep we've had ourselves the night before, the condition of our house, yada yada, this is often where us parents loose our tempers easiest...when we have to reiterate and discipline again and again and again for the same things, and that requires getting up and doing it. It's hard work, mostly because it's emotionally and mentally draining, and it's so easy to take it personally. The next thing I'm about to write has almost become a family motto of sorts: "It's a short but intense period of training for years of good outcomes."
That's how we see quiet time in our house, too. Again. A lot of work in a short amount of time, for reaping great benefits for a LONG time.
Our children, once they gave up their nap time, generally took 2-4 weeks total for the understanding of "I'm supposed to stay in my room until mom comes and gets me" was complete. During this time there were a lot of exasperated days on my behalf (I was of course used to getting all my free time completely uninterrupted, now getting interrupted frequently with getting up and taking care of business). This involved me, at times, sitting outside their door, waiting for them to disobey my directions because I knew they would.
Time outs work wonders for a child who is worked up and/or throwing a tantrum. They are not, however, efficient for training for quiet time. To a child, there is really no difference between sitting in their room quietly and quiet time...it's going to look the same to them. The nap time is NOT a punishment for a child, it's a whole family rest period. This will cause the quiet time to be a really long discipline, when that's not the goal. There needs to be a much more immediate consequence for deliberately disobeying the house rules (stay in your room until we get you). Our family used 2 tactics, over and over, for training:
1) Immediately picking up the child and placing them back on their bed,
2) repeating something like, "This is quiet time. You stay in your room until mom or dad comes to get you. You may not leave your room except to go to the bathroom. I'm taking _____ (toy, teddy, book) for this time because you did not listen to instructions and you've lost the privilege."
3) Leave and shut the door.
We also used a spank on the hand instead of removing a toy after the first day or two, once they've had a day to get used to the idea.
This continues, literally, until they are done with their testing period. Like I said before, this is generally a 2-4 week period of near constant interruptions. Some days they only did it a few times, others it was more like 20 before I was able to squeeze in an hour to myself. Once this is done, though, it's smooth sailing for a long time. There will always be an exception, an 'every once in a blue moon', where they have a day of testing, but that is nipped in the bud early with consistency and discipline.
Essentially, what I'm trying to say by writing all of this is that you can have this daily free time in your home, making it a peaceful place for all members, but one must be consistent with training. If you are lenient or give up within a day or so, you can kiss that time good-bye, for that child will continue to interrupt, push your buttons, whine, and haggle you for more time. There is a difference between a child and parent having a good connection and lots of cuddle/play time together, and a child who is literally sapping away a parent because of their neediness that can be distributed in a manner of learning to play by oneself. It is not our job to entertain our kids 24/7.
Everyone has family goals and I'm almost certain no one has "entertain child constantly" written down. I encourage you that you can do this with a bit of patience, prayer, and grit, you can do this. Remember...it's a short period of time of hard, intense work, for a long period of time reaping the benefits. You can do it!