How to Transition from Nap Time to Quiet Time with a 2-year-old (or: How to Save Your Sanity and Your Gaming Time)

I hear that some of you have children who sleep. I’m not sure where you are and how you do it, but this post is not for you. In fact, if your child is taking a nap right now, I hope that you are grinding those game achievements or making those headshots. Don’t spend this time today doing chores – do something you enjoy and do it well, for all of us.

But, if you are like me and have produced some sort of sleepless vampire child, then read on, my friend.

Stock photography of children sleeping, because I’ve never actually seen my own child do this

My daughter started fighting her nap before she was 2.5 years old. She’s in daycare full time, and still naps for about an hour at school during the week. The butt. However, weekends for the last few months have been filled with tears and screams and no naps.

Online resources mostly recommend naps until at least 3 year old, so I treated this like a regression and worked to get back on schedule. We planned tons of high-energy activities for the mornings (gymnastics, playground visits, swimming). I tried napping with her. I tried leaving her alone in a dark room (dark until 0.4 seconds after I left and she flipped her switch back on). Nothing seemed to help.

Why we dropped the nap

In the end, our reasons for dropping nap at home were simple. She seemed to check off most of the other readiness boxes: her mood is stable throughout the day even without a nap, she is consistently getting 11 or 12 hours of overnight sleep, and the stress of trying to get her to fall asleep on the weekends was making our good mornings turn to bad afternoons, leaving everyone frustrated and upset with each other.

On days she naps (at daycare, during the week), her usual 8:00pm bedtime was creeping further and further back until it was almost 9:30. 

I get up at 5:30am for work, and I’m currently pregnant, so her 9:30 bedtime was really tough on me. I barely had time to pack our lunches for the next day before crashing. “Extra” chores like dishes and laundry and personal hygiene were nearly impossible to keep up with.

Since she started skipping naps on the weekends, she’s asleep by 8:15.

But swapping out nap time for quiet time with a 2-year-old is not as easy as it sounds. Especially not with a 2-year-old who doesn’t play well alone. 

As I mentioned, my daughter is in daycare during the week. When I pick her up, she’s usually relishing in the chaos of all the other kids. Very rarely, she might be quietly reading a book or stacking a tower of blocks, but even then, the room is a cacophony of sights and sounds and smells that she is very used to, having been in daycare since she was 3 months old. And I miss her so much during the week, that our weekends are filled to the brim with together time.

In a way, I saw the end of nap time as an opportunity for her to learn a new skill: playing independently. With a baby brother on the way, there are going to be more times when she’s not the center of our attention. 

After struggling for weeks, trying to force her to sleep, and ending up with both of us sobbing, I was eager to start a new routine that would be calm and restful for her, and for me.

My expectations

Quiet time will be in her room, it will last for an hour, and my involvement will be minimal.

At 2, I don’t expect my daughter to entertain herself for an entire hour without me. I’m happy to go in and redirect her to the next activity or to remind her she can pick out new books or a new puzzle. But, after that, I let her know that mommy is going to have quiet time too.

I spent the first weekend of the nap to quiet time transition playing Wilmot’s Warehouse and eating an Oreo cookie every time she pounded on her bedroom door. As we did with evening sleep training, I was as boring as possible and said flatly, “It’s quiet time. You need to play here by yourself or lie down in bed and take a nap.”

At the end of the hour, I was nauseous from half a dozen cookies and feeling really frustrated. I’d also read a ton of mommy blogs about Quiet Time boxes.

Most of the suggestions on those blogs were great but a bit advanced. There were toys my toddler would try to eat (beads and other choking hazards), toys that would have her calling me in to help with (complicated multi-step crafts), and toys that would make a huge mess (paint, sand).

I scoured Amazon and turned up enough new items to fill 6 shoe boxes with safe and clean activities that she can do alone in her room. This weekend, the stuff I ordered in my frenzied sugar coma is here, and I’m excited to share how it goes.

Quiet time supplies

A timer: I ordered what was essentially an egg timer with a blue background. I liked the color rather than numbers only, because I felt like it would be easier for her to understand: Quiet time is over when all the blue is gone. I do wish it was more than a 60 minute timer because as she gets older, I’d love for quiet time to last longer, but for my 2 year old an hour alone is really her maximum. Also I could do without the loud buzz when the timer hits 0. If my child doesn’t notice the blue is gone and keeps playing, great! But with the loud buzz, she is certain to notice the end of quiet time. I plan to muffle the speakers in the back and see if that helps.

Quiet time boxes: I only managed to fill 3 shoe boxes so far, but she’s in daycare, so I only need these for the weekends. I got coloring pages with mess-free markers, a soft book with buttons and snaps, and more. You can see some of the items in the picture, and I may try to add links to her favorite ones eventually. In addition to the new toys in these boxes, her room also has…

My Quiet Time boxes and the blue timer

Wooden blocks/puzzles and board books: One of our previous quiet time attempts had her ripping out and eating pages from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, so now the only books that are kept in her room are board books as they are much harder to destroy.

Her white noise machine: I have heard also of mythical children who fall asleep while playing quietly by themselves. Again, I have never witnessed such a thing and I fear if it happened in my house it would herald the apocalypse, but nonetheless, I turn the white noise on very very softly in case it subliminally encourages her to sleep.

No screens: Some parents allow videos during quiet time. I have unfortunately already raised a budding tech addict, and I wasn’t looking to encourage it any further. Plus, I like to save videos for when we want to watch something together as a family (her favorite game to watch is Untitled Goose Game) or for when I’m truly desperate for her to sit down and zone out (like when I’m trying to cook a nice dinner that involves the stove instead of the microwave).

Feeling extremely prepared, armed with all of these new supplies, I couldn’t wait for Quiet Time.

The first quiet time box was a hit. She admired her new toys and began to color. However, within minutes of assessing these carefully selected toys, she tossed them to the side.

I think she was hoping that complaining would make me cave: “Oh, you don’t want to color? Okay, quiet time can be over.” Sorry kid, tough luck. I did show her how to play with today’s toys and pointed out everything else in her room she could play with.

Then, I set the timer and placed it on her dresser. She quickly understood the concept and moved the timer to the floor next to her coloring pages. So she could see it better, I thought.

I left the room and headed into the office (to type this). Moments later, I hear a loud buzz followed by “The blue is all gone, mommy! Quiet time is done!” The little bugger had turned the knob and erased her remaining 50 minutes of quiet time. She argued like a lawyer but in the end, I won. I reset the timer to 45 minutes and put it out of reach on a high shelf.

I had to go in a few times to flatly repeat our mantra: “It’s quiet time. You need to play here until the blue is all gone.”

About 30 minutes later, she melted down. I say the phrase but she begs me through choked sobs to stay with her. The whole purpose of switching from fighting over nap time to quiet time is to avoid stressing us both out. I want this to be a fun and pleasant experience and not a punishment.

I stay in the room until she calms down, and then I offer her a choice: You can go night-night on mommy or you can finish quiet time by coloring and reading books. The reply is quick: “Night-night on mommy.”

With a sigh, I click off her light, scoop her into my arms, and plop into the chair. I’m certain that quiet time is over for today. She sings, and I tell her that I am trying to sleep so she needs to be quiet. She turns her volume down one notch and keeps singing. I close my eyes. When I look down, I see her doing the same. Her breathing slows. She’s actually falling asleep on me! What in the world!

Then, I see it.

The timer.

Its blue color slowly draining away. I’d placed it on a high shelf and now in the dark, my old eyes could barely see it. How long did I have before the buzz would wake her? Her breathing was slow, but she wasn’t completely asleep yet. 

If I moved, she’d wake up.

I knew it was less than 15 minutes when I came into the room, and those first 40 minutes had run so fast. Was this thing even accurate? I could see what I thought was blue coloring at about the 10 minute mark but I wasn’t sure.

My heartbeat raced, my breathing quickened. The baby responded to my internal distress by doing backflips and kicking his toddler sister who was pressed against my pregnant stomach. 

This was a delicate operation, like cutting a wire before the bomb explodes. I’d need her to be asleep enough to set down but with enough time for me to get to the timer.

After what felt like an eternity, I gently rolled her onto her bed, turned the white noise machine up a few notches, grabbed the timer, and ran out of the room: 3 minutes to spare. Mom level 10,000.

In conclusion, my Quiet Time boxes were such a success that they bored my toddler into her first weekend nap in months.

This was obviously a fluke. I’ll let you know how the rest of the boxes go over, but for now I’m going to enjoy the fact that with this time I wrote an entire blog post, and I still have time to take a shower.

Share your tips for transitioning from Nap to Quiet time below. Did you do this with a kid less than 3? How’d it go?

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