One thing that I often talk with parents about is introducing some quiet time in the days of their babies and children. Even adults can reap huge benefits from indulging in a little quiet each day. However, for developing young bodies and brains, it is without question a worthy habit to adopt. Here’s why:
Transitions: Whether you are transitioning from two naps to one, or transitioning out of naps altogether, some mid-afternoon quiet time can help your little one make it to bedtime without pushing him to an overtired state. While you still might have an early bedtime for a while, to help keep his batteries charged through the transition, afternoon quiet time can make for a happier evening until then. Remember that young brains and bodies are easily overstimulated, so a breather is welcome relief.
Development: Many parents, myself included, at one point believed that background noise like soft music or kids’ songs helps with children’s development. Not necessarily so. While music is something that children certainly enjoy, it’s not something to have on constantly and can interfere with a child’s ability to learn new words and skills. Because for babies and small children every piece of stimulus coming in through the senses must be processed, music, conversation, toys, household noise, etc is overwhelming. As we grow, we are able to unconsciously sort things into our “pay attention” file and our “ignore” file”: the barking dog, a car driving by, or the smell of laundry doesn’t need separate attention from us. With babies, it’s so different because the world is totally new. Giving your baby or child one thing at a time to process, especially at first, will help their development along. Is a sing-along-dance-party a blast? Absolutely. And there is time in the day for that. Just make time for some quiet as well.
In school, kids feel much more engaged in class when teachers provide “wait time” when asking questions, rather than letting students shout out answers. They also tend to love quiet reading or work time if it’s not too long of a time period for their age. Allowing kids to be in their own brains is something that we shy away from, when really, it can benefit their learning and development so much.
Better Sleep: Some children who spend all day around noise will awaken in the middle of the night and be unable to go back to sleep because it’s too quiet in their rooms. Even kids with white noise machines in their rooms are “disturbed” by the quiet. Babies and children who spend some time each day in a quiet space will awaken to find nothing amiss and drift right back off to sleep.
This isn’t the only reason that quiet time leads to better sleep. Also, with quiet time comes a little bit of a reboot, helping kids make it to the end of the day without entering an overtired state. The less overtired your child is at bedtime, the easier it is for him to fall asleep.
Emotional Processing: In the book Reset Your Child’s Brain by Victoria Dunckley, she says, “Dealing with constant input lowers the brain’s ability to work through emotions and make sense of what’s being learned” (Real Simple, Jan. 2016). Providing adequate time and quiet space for children to process various emotions that they are perhaps feeling for the first time will allow them to learn coping skills, appropriate responses, and healthy habits around those emotions. Also, it’s helpful to practice quiet processing with young kids especially when they are frustrated or angry (aka, two years old!). Taking a break, taking a breathe, and finding words can lead towards better future responses.
Introverts and extroverts can benefit from quiet time: Susan Cain’s book Quiet is one of my favorite texts regarding the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Through several studies and much research, she determines that quiet time is equally beneficial for introverts and extroverts. While those further on the introvert side of the spectrum will use quiet time to charge their batteries in various ways, most extroverts will use this time for reflection or planning ahead. One parent I worked with told me that her daughter was an extreme extrovert and would not tolerate quiet time. I asked her to try it out for three days and—sure enough—the little girl entered into such a focused state while coloring a picture that her mother, doing something in another room, thought she’d fallen asleep.
What does Quiet Time look like? For every family, quiet time looks a little different. Because there is still noise and stimulus involved, I usually don’t recommend TV or screen time. Yes, your child is probably quiet, preoccupied, and sitting relatively still, but again, there is so much stimulus coming from a screen. Try turning off background noise and engaging your child in an activity like coloring, looking at books, doing some baby or child yoga, or working a puzzle. Some parents will provide their no longer napping children with quiet time in their bedrooms, lying down with some books, or even some time laying down with mom or dad in a quiet space, which can be wonderful bonding time. Sometimes, especially after a busy day at school or playing, these kids will drift off for a little nap. Depending on the age of your child anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour could be appropriate. Keep in mind, this isn’t a punishment, it’s a little gift in the day for your child to rest her senses.
It’s really for everyone! Modeling quiet time yourself will teach your children that it’s a normal part of everyone’s day. It’s also cognitively beneficial to spend time each day in a quiet space for every age. One age group that could really benefit from more quiet time is teenagers, most of whom (including my own stepkids) spend their day going through several class periods, their afternoons doing homework and being with friends, all the while connected to various devices that produce prompts, notifications, and consistent noise. This age group in particular seems to have a difficult time with quiet even in very small amounts. It’s worthwhile to help them learn, simply because the benefits of how they’ll process everything that is going on in their worlds (internal and external) are so many.
So, my advice: try it out. Give your baby or child some quiet time today or this week and just see what happens. Don’t panic that your child will be bored or understimulated. He’s got the most incredible imagination blooming in his beautiful brain right now and might just need a little space to let it out. Also, give yourself the gift of a little quiet time. “Unplug the TV, turn off the phone…” as Dave Matthews says. During these busy holiday weeks, it’s especially important to mute the background noise, even for 15 minutes, and go where your mind takes you. You might find that you’re sleeping a little better, too.
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