The story is familiar to parents, carers and educators of young children everywhere: A couple of daytime naps merge into one. Then that one nap becomes shorter, later in the day, and harder to settle into and wake up from. Finally, the naps drop to every other day (if you are lucky), until they eventually disappear altogether. The despair felt when your little one resists a daytime sleep is very real. A missed nap can mean:
- increased irritability, frustration and upset
- difficulties remaining calm, regulated and managing emotions
- challenges with problem solving and playing independently
- a hard time following instructions and doing things that are not on their agenda, and
- the danger of a super late nap, threatening to disrupt dinner, bath, and night time settling routines for everyone
…And that’s just the adults. (*Joke!)
When naps become a thing of the past, the search for necessary ‘down time’ ideas begins. Why? … Because children need a chance to ‘recharge their batteries‘ during the day; to press their ‘reset button‘; to calm, and prepare for the rest of the day’s demands.
Whilst I am generally an advocate of ‘balance’ and all things in moderation, screens are not calming to the sensory system. Rather than helping a child relax, the screen’s bright lights and busy images are alerting, stimulating and heightening for the sensory system.
Although it can be tempting to automatically turn to the TV or iPad every day, as a kind of ‘default’ solution to quiet time, exploring a wider repertoire of calming options will equip children to not only better manage the rest of the day, but also give them self-care experiences to draw upon throughout their lives.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Every child is unique, meaning different ideas may work for different children. Furthermore, calming options may change depending on the day and as children grow! Therefore, it is a great idea to build a ‘calming toolbox’ of quiet time ideas. Ultimately it is all about reducing the day’s sensory demands.
HERE ARE 55 SCREEN-FREE IDEAS TO SUPPORT CHILDREN TO TAKE A BREAK, RELAX, AND RE-ENERGISE FOR MINIMAL INTERFERENCE WITH NIGHT TIME SETTLING AND SLEEP ROUTINES.
- Drawing/colouring – even chalk drawing outside…
- Lego/building blocks/connectors…
- Repetitive activities, such as: lacing, threading, beading, sorting…
- Play dough (For example: Vanilla and Cinnamon Play dough with Natural Elements)
- Sensory bin/tub (salt, sand, slime, pom poms, rice, lentils…)
- Exploring natural treasures (leaves, stones/rocks, sticks, shells, etc…)
- Calm bottles – such as re-cycled plastic bottles with water, food colouring, glitter and sequins. (There are many different DIY calm bottle options, recipes and instructions accessible on the internet.) My little one has always enjoyed making all sorts of calm bottle – variations on a theme with me (Discovery Bottles – Made By and With a 2 Year Old).
- Smoothies – thick fluid/thin straw makes for ‘heavy work’, which is calming.
- Water play – funnels, tubes, containers, strainers… (Maybe water the plants).
- Beach water walk – Walk along the shoreline at the beach, ankle deep in water
- Bubbles – blowing bubbles (with a wand, ‘giant bubbles’, or even with a straw in a tub of water with a splash of washing detergent)
- Strong bear hugs
- “Steam roller” – Roll a fit ball slowly over your child’s back/legs whilst they are lying on their tummy
- Bean bag – a bean bag case half filled with beans enables a child to really sink down into it for some lovely firm pressure touch input.
- “Squish sandwich” – positioned in between mats/couch cushions…
- Wrap up! – Being wrapped firmly in a large towel, blanket, piece of material (lycra works brilliantly) provides calming deep pressure/firm touch.
- Rocking chair
- Restricted spaces. For kids who tend to find it hard to slow their bodies down, and keep from fleeting between play spaces and ideas, sometimes encouraging limited areas is helpful. That is, kids can choose any quiet activity they like to play on the trampoline, hideout, couch, bed, mat/rug…)
- Bath – Moving bath time to mid afternoon can be another ‘restricted space’ idea. The warm (or cool) water – depending on the season, can help to calm children and prepare them for the next part of the day. This needn’t be a regular routine change – the novelty of occasionally suggesting an early bath can work wonders!
- Hideouts, cubbies, reading nooks (eg. tent, tunnel, sheet over a table, …)
- Car drive (Add: calm music/nature sounds , a book or favourite soft toy)
- Pram/Stroller walk (Add: calm music, nature sounds – real or recorded..)
- Baby/Toddler carrier (Backpack) – walk/dance/rock…
- Lakeside– watch/feed ducks…
- Head outside and look up! Lay down on the grass/sand/picnic blanket and watch the clouds float by or imagine cloud pictures in the sky!
- Fish – do you own or do you know a local fish tank? Watching fish can be mesmerising!
- Candles – gaze into the flame together!
- Waves – Watch the waves crash in at the beach – cuddle up/dig a hole in the sand/ sink feet into the wet sand/count the waves
- Look out the window – Watch the rain fall and the wind move the trees from the warmth of inside…
- Spend some quiet time at the local library – browsing the shelves/book pages, reading to each other…
- Garden – watering the plants with a water can or squirter can be quite relaxing too!
COGNITION – Quiet time ideas to re-focus the mind
- Quiet music
- Audio books
- Books, comics, magazines – independent or shared reading time
- Face painting (face painting ‘crayons’ are great!) – this is great for kids who find sitting still difficult (draw slowly! Siblings/friends could draw on each others’ faces, and if you are in the mood for it – maybe they could paint your face/hand!)
- Trace around hands, feet or body (with chalk outside, or on a large sheet of paper inside) – Another perfect idea for kids who find it hard to calm their bodies.
- Magnifying glass / binoculars – are great tools to encourage kids to slow down a little. They might like to take a closer look at a bird’s nest, flowers, bugs, or any other treasure…
- Symbolic play scene with soft toys, dolls, teddies – Slow the pace of play and help kids to tap into their calming, nurturing side by looking after their favourite ‘friends’. You could bathe, dry, dress and feed them … or skip right to the ‘settling’ them to sleep part (tucking in with blanket, singing lullabies, kiss/cuddle, read them a book, “shhh…time for baby to sleep”… Remember, Baby Symbolic Props needn’t be fancy!
- Flexibility – Rather than encouraging rest time by the clock, it can be helpful to watch children’s play to identify natural lulls in play sequences. (Eg. slowing down, becoming quite repetitive, moving away from or finishing current play ideas).
- Try to think of rest ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’. Half an hour of deep pressure (wrapped up, sunk into a bean bag, or being hugged), quiet reading and a smoothie is still a rest, even if it may not be the previously enjoyed 1-3 hour afternoon sleep.
- The power of choice. Giving children appropriate options from which to choose allows them to control their own ‘down time’. This encourages them to exercise an internal locus of control and reduces the ‘battle’ scenes.
- Change your terminology. Rather than “sleep time” or “nap time”, try “quiet time”, “rest time”.
- Visual checklists. Even the simplest drawings are perfect. For example, if he/she is keen to start a new play idea of zooming around with the cars/trucks: “First- Books and teddies on bed… Then- cars” Calmly and clearly state what’s happening now and next.
- Use a calm, quiet, slow-paced voice during quiet time.
- Have a rest yourself! The power of being a positive role model is great! “Mummy needs to rest a bit now… shhh… I’m so tired, I need some quiet time too!” (put your feet up, have a cuppa, read a book, lie down for a nap, do a crossword…)
Rest time is an ongoing challenge during childhood (and perhaps always and forever?!!)… so be kind to yourself, and if something really isn’t working, try something else!
I always love to receive comments, so feel free to leave a thought or response to this post in the section below. How have your children managed to rest when naps have disappeared?
This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids 12 Months Series by Occupational and Physical Therapists.
You can read all of the functional skills HERE.
Read all of my monthly posts in this series HERE.
Looking for more information about Personal Care from an occupational therapy and physical therapy perspective? Stop by to see what the other OTs and PTs in the Functional Skills for Kids series have written…
Task Analysis – Independent Bathing in Children | Your Therapy Source
Tips and Tricks for Teaching Hand Washing with Kids | Growing Hands-On Kids
I can brush my teeth! Tips for Tooth Brushing and Oral Care! | Your Kids OT
Screen Free Quiet Time When Daytime Naps are History | Kids Play Space
Tips to Help Kids Learn How to Blow Their Nose | Sugar Aunts
Tips to Help Kids Who Hate Haircuts | Mama OT
Sensory Friendly Tips for Kids Who Have Trouble Sleeping | The Inspired Treehouse
Your Child With Special Needs: How to Conquer Showering Independently | Miss Jaime OT
Adolescent Hygiene Challenges | Therapy Fun Zone
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