My Kids Are In Elementary School & I Never Gave Up Naptime
It’s the best gift I ever gave myself. Here’s how I did it.
I had just started grad school when my oldest daughter regularly started taking naps in her own crib during the day. Most of the time, I spent those couple hours reading, researching, and writing. But I also made time to eat meals without little fists grabbing at my plate, sit on the couch and close my eyes for a few blessed moments, and use the bathroom without company. Those quiet chunks of time were a lifeline, a little regularly scheduled reminder that my needs were valid and important. I’m a sensitive introvert, and that time to care for myself made me a better mom. On days when I was already overwhelmed by the end of breakfast, the naptime routine helped me keep it together, because I knew a break was coming.
Fast forward 10 years, I now have four kids who are sadly long past the naptime stage. But me? I still need regular breaks from sibling squabbling, demands for snacks, and requests for the latest Descendants songs on Spotify. If anything, I need it more as they get older and their needs get more complicated. I am still, after all, a sensitive introvert, but now my household is even louder and more chaotic. I need time during the day to reset — quietly and alone.
And so every day around 3:30pm I thank my younger self for the best gift I’ve ever given myself: I never gave up the naptime routine.
Of course, most of my kids aren’t still actually napping at this point. But we still use that time for a period of quiet recharging. On a typical weekday, my kids return from school and we have an hour or so to settle in, chat, and eat a snack. Weekends we have a similar routine after we return from morning activities but have more flexibility depending on what is on the agenda that day. My 12-year-old daughter often eagerly awaits rest time, when she likes to play with the dog and use her allotted screen time to browse Pinterest. My-9-year old son is more reluctant to rest, but the time provides him much-needed structure for his 20 minutes of required daily reading, after which he enjoys building Legos or shooting baskets in his back-of-the-bedroom-door hoop. My 8-year-old often spends the time deep in a graphic novel or the latest Percy Jackson book. My youngest, who is 7, either plays with Barbies until she drifts off for a cat nap on her pink rug or takes a long bath with the aforementioned Descendants music pumping.
As for me, it depends on the day and my energy level. I’ll be honest and admit that I usually compulsively check social media for the first 10 or 15 minutes. Then I like to come up with a plan for dinner, after which I read a few pages of my book or take a power nap on the sofa.
It’s not always perfect or idyllic, of course — this is the real world. Kids wake me up with questions about homework. The dog barks at the mailman. Someone inevitably asks if rest time is over yet. But still, given all that, it’s worth it to me.
I created this routine very deliberately. My son was born when my oldest daughter was 3 years old and just starting the dreaded process of dropping her afternoon nap. The incessant questions of a toddler can be downright charming in the morning, but by lunchtime, well, let’s just say the charm has worn thin. By this point I was relying on naptime to make sure I didn’t lose my mind and transform into some wild-eyed mommy monster. When I saw that this daily reset button was in jeopardy, I absolutely refused to let it fade. So here’s what I did instead.
Transition naptime into quiet time
If you can, when your kid starts to drop their nap, reframe that exact same point in the day as “quiet time.” They don’t have to sleep, but they do have to be reasonably quiet. It will be a struggle at first, but it will pay off. If necessary, start with a short amount of time and slowly extend. I must have said a thousand times: “You don’t need to sleep or even stay in your bed, but you do need to stay in your room and play on your own.”
Keep the rules fluid
We’ve gone through many iterations of rest time as my kids have grown and each kid shows me what works for their unique personality. When the kids were very little, they needed stricter boundaries like staying in their room with the door shut. Some of my kids still need that firm limit. Others can wander the house because they do so while still keeping with the rest time spirit. The common denominator is that we use the time to reset and restore, and activities that interfere with that for others in the house are not allowed. Different boundaries around rest time location, screens, volume, and allowed activities have worked for my family at different times.
Sometimes my daughter fell asleep during quiet time. Sometimes she flipped through books or arranged her stuffies. Sometimes she wandered out of her room, not quiet at all, which wasn’t ideal. I treated quiet time as non-negotiable, and I clearly explained to her what did and did not count. I wasn’t punitive about it, but I was firm. For an hour daily, we rested. It’s just what we did. Some days I escorted her back to her room multiple times. She was a persistent child, but she got it from her me. I was more persistent. And it’s paid off.
Model the importance of rest
You don’t need to expound on the science of why our bodies need rest and why as an introvert, mommy needs alone time, but you can find an age-appropriate way to instill the value of self-care, listening to your body, and finding the benefits of down time. Focus on the positive aspects of what rest does for you. Perhaps keep the voice that is shouting, “I just need a second away from you!!” inside your own head.
Help your child find quiet activities
Work with your child to find activities they will appreciate. Try a story time podcast or music. My kids like when I print them a coloring page of their choosing (somehow it’s more special than a coloring book, don’t ask me why). Picture books or search and finds are always good options. Consider making certain activities special for quiet time. Pull out the “fancy” crayons or the “special” building blocks. They don’t actually need to be fancy or special. Just keeping them aside for a special time bestows this honor on them.
Evolve the practice as your child grows
As my kids have gotten older, they’ve taken on other activities like independent craft projects such as rainbow loom or practicing on the keyboard (with headphones!). My oldest kids now use quiet time to do their homework. Sometimes two of the kids will choose to play a calm game together. Some will use quiet time to do their chores or take a shower.
Do what works for your schedule
Maybe your quiet time is 15 minutes. Maybe it’s an hour. Maybe you have a quiet time after school. Maybe it's before dinner. Do what works for you and your child.
Use the time to rest
Try not to catch up on emails. Don’t do the dishes. Read a book. Close your eyes. Listen to music. Lay down. Sneak some snacks you don’t have to share.
Ditch the guilt
The world already heaps loads of guilt onto parents. It is easy to feel guilty about sequestering your child to their room while you nap. But that is just one story we can tell ourselves. Remind yourself that when you do get a chance to rest, it allows you to be more present and engaged with your child later on. Our kids don’t need us constantly, they just need us consistently. Parenting really is about quality, not quantity. I can give my kids more quality time when I give them just a little less quantity.
Ashley Schuster Downend lives in Oakland, California with her husband, four kids and lovable but curmudgeonly eight pound dog. She writes about parenting, foster care, and mental health. Follow her on Instagram @ashleyschusterdownend.