As I type, my four year old is purposely isolated in her room.
That sentence seems really weird for me. How is it respectful to force my child to be in her room alone every day for an hour? How is that gentle? Well, I’ve figured out some ways to make it so.
We first tried out “Quiet Time” back in January. With a combination of preschool every day and Peanut’s severe hatred of being alone in her room, we stopped shortly after. But when the semester ended, which meant that we were all together for 24 hours a day, things got stressful pretty quickly. Peanut’s preschool was only 2.5 hours four days a week, but it’s still a break. Just a bit of time for Peanut to be away from little sister all over her and me to be away from having two kids all over me. Time for me to accomplish something like loading the dishwasher without two little “helpers” (which I’m completely grateful to have, but jeeze chores take longer with “help”!). Just time for a little bit of alone.
So when I was reading this guest post on Free Range Kids (great site and great book, by the way!), it occurred to me that I should try again. A quick summary is that every day, her children go to their rooms for one hour and she is left alone to do what she wishes. And not only is it good for her, but it’s good for her kids too! This sounded like a dream! When your child stops napping, it makes life both easier and harder. Yes there’s less timing around naps, but man everyone is grumpy by day’s end. Most definitely including me. A little break in the middle of the day sounded devine!
So, I decided to make it so. And thus far, it’s been going great. There have been a few key things that I did in order to make this gentle and respectful and honestly, it couldn’t be going better.
1. Be matter of fact. Quiet time must be announced very matter of factly. Quiet time doesn’t start while you’re upset or in a “being sent to your room” fashion. It’s simply time for quiet time so it starts. When my daughter comes out of quiet time (for a variety of reasons), I just tell her I’m pausing the timer (I use the timer on my iPhone) and she does what she needs to (e.g. goes to the bathroom) and tells me when she’s going back into her room. Handling it in a matter of fact way has turned this from something to get emotional about (either angry or sad that she’s going into quiet time) into something we just do.
2. Use a specific time. I have an alarm that goes off on my phone every day at 1PM (except Sundays, where we eat lunch at my in-laws’ at 1PM, so it goes off at 11AM in order to do quiet time before we leave). Quiet time is always one hour long. There’s no arguing either of these times. When the timer goes off, it goes off.
3. Be flexible. Just like I said in number one, I don’t get upset when she leaves her room. I just pause the timer (because otherwise she’d sit on the toilet for 20 minutes just to be outside of her room, because somehow that’s better) and start it up again when she’s done. She still leaves her room plenty, but she still gets her hour in and she understands that she is going to get her hour no matter how many times she goes potty or needs a drink or needs to tell me just one thing. I have started a rule that if she comes out purely to ask how much longer quiet time is that she gets 5 minutes added (because she started coming out every 2-3 minutes to ask), but since imposing the rule, all I have to do is remind her. She’s never actually had the 5 minutes added. Also, if we’re out and about when the alarm rings, Peanut knows that we’ll do quiet time when we get home.
4. Focus on my needs. Peanut is 4. Sure, that’s not really that old, but it is old enough for her to understand that I have needs. I’ve explained to her (and re-explained when she wants to hear about it again) that mama needs quiet time too. I’ve told her that it makes me a happier person and a nicer mama when I get a little break. She seems to understand this and it negates her arguments when she tries to tell me that she’s happy so she doesn’t need quiet time. I just tell her mama still needs it and she understands.
I plan on continuing with “quiet time” for the foreseeable future. Once Twig stops napping (crossing my fingers that it’s not any time soon!), she’ll get quiet time too. I also think this is a great way to get Peanut used to her school’s “nap time” (during which the children aren’t forced to nap, but must lay quietly with the lights off on their cots) that she’ll have to start doing again in the fall. It will mean that she doesn’t get quiet time at home when we start that, but we’ll all be getting breaks from each other while I’m in class anyway. So if this sounds like something you’d like to do, give it a try. Remember you can be a separate person while still being respectful to your child. And remember that it’s good for both of you to get some alone time.