Friday, June 17, 2016

Naps & Play-Alone Times

  • Our sleep principles 
  • Older children who need less sleep
  • A young child who needs unusually little sleep
  • 2 or 3-year-old's who "quit" napping
  • Enabling naps, not forcing them
  • Napping alone
  • Napping twins
  • Sleeping in on Saturdays
  • My "play-alone time" strategy

When I gave birth to our third baby our two oldest girls were ages 3 and 4, and at age three had begun balking at taking naps. Trying to get them to stay in bed and sleep became a daily struggle.  And yet I was desperate for that rest time myself, and the girls actually felt better and behaved much better in the afternoons and evenings if they had a nap that day.  I asked a friend what I should do, and she lovingly pointed me towards Steve & Teri Maxwell's books, namely the Managers of Their Homes book.  Teri Maxwell (homeschooling mother of 8) explained that they require that their children nap through age five, and she shared why that was so valuable and how they did it.  *whew!*  I was so relieved!  And we have implemented those strategies for 9 children so far.   I will share with you a good strategy of what can be done, and what the older children can do for similar benefit.

We have found that in our family having a daily nap or independent quiet time for every person is an absolute necessity.  We all feel physically refreshed, as well as mentally and emotionally.  We have required and enabled all of our younger children to nap through age 5, while the older children and myself have a 2-hour "play alone time".  We all rest.  No one is talking to each other.  Children play independently without anyone taking their toys or interrupting their play or their thoughts.  I am not managing anyone's relationships, and no one is talking to me.  *smile*  And the children learn the skill of being alone and quiet, without needing outside entertainment or companions every minute (which in this day in age is a skill to be acquired).  

As a side note:  I have known many adults who have said that they hate to be alone, or always need music playing, or the TV on, or ear phones in, and they are actually very uncomfortable with quiet and being alone.  But it hasn't served them well.  They tend to be pretty high-strung and nervous with out noise.  But people need to be quiet sometimes, comfortable with our own thoughts, and Christians need to be able to listen to the Lord's speaking in to our lives.  Not that we sit in silence and without occupation during those two hours.  *chuckle*  But while we are spending time by ourselves we can hear the Lord's still, small voice when He speaks to our hearts.  

So when we have this quiet 2 hours every day of either a nap or an alone time, we emerge with the difficulties of the day somewhat erased and ready to begin a new, we are ready for interaction and relationship a fresh, we are eager once again to be with lots of people (in the small space of our home *chuckle*), and we eagerly anticipate the rest of the afternoon and evening together.  It's so good.  So let's look at some logistics for having kids nap through age 5, and for how we do "play alone time" at our house.

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Our sleep principles 

When we went through the Growing Families International (a.k.a. Growing Kids God's Way) classes as new parents we were taught not only how much sleep to expect for varying ages of children, but also to consider the amount of sleep a child needs within an entire 24-hour period.  With this knowledge we can decide how much sleep to give them at night, and how much to give them for a nap.  Or, how to enable them to get the full amount of sleep needed at night so that they do not need a nap.  Most children between the ages of 1 and 10 or so need about 10-11 hours at night, with a nap for children 5-years-old and younger; and for us our teenagers need about 8-10 hours of sleep per night.  And a child's total amount of sleep can be worked with to help make sure that they do not suffer from being either overly tired, or under tired, either of which can disable him from sleeping well and from napping.

If a child is overly tired - meaning they do not get enough sleep - they may be crying, restless, falling asleep at odd times of day, or even may behave hyperactive.  If a child is under tired - meaning they are given too much sleep (or time in bed) - they are being expected to sleep more than they need.  This naturally causes them to fight the designated sleeping times, and also can produce a child who may seem tired (or overly whiny or "faling apart" during unusual times of the day because they were not able to fall asleep quickly or easily at the designated times.  We need to help them find the balance, and the amount of sleep that is ideal for them as a general rule.  (A good resource for learning more about this is Malia Jacobson's, The Well-Rested Family website and blog!)

So in considering how much sleep our children need total in a 24-hour period, we first implement a regular bed time for all of the children at the same time.  For a long time that bedtime was 8:00 pm, however during that season of life Bob was getting home from work around 4:00 pm so we had a nice amount of family time in the evening together still.  With my husband's current work schedule, however, we did not have that much evening time together so we chose to make an adjustment on our early-to-bed and early-to-rise plan.  Now the children go to bed at 9:00 pm and get up between 6:00 am and 7:30 am depending on each child's age.  Not only is it good for the children's "body clocks" to know when it's time to sleep each night, but Bob and I need to know when we're "off duty" for the night.  *smile*  So no matter their age they are all in bed at the same time every night, from the 2-year-olds to the 14-year-olds.

I've been asked many times if I need to lay down with a child to help them fall asleep.  Routinely I do not do this at either naps or at night time, however I love to once in a while.  We enabled the children from the time they were babies to put themselves to sleep, so they are used to lying down, quieting their body, closing their eyes, and going to sleep by themselves.  Sometimes a sibling or I will snuggle with a napping child for a few minutes at the beginning of nap time just because it's a sweet time, but doing this is not required to get a child to go to sleep or stay in bed.

Older children who need less sleep

To accommodate older children who do not need as much sleep as younger ones, we tell them they may get up earlier in the morning if they need to, but not stay up late at night.  Staying up late always has a certain seduction for both young people and adults alike, but really generally nothing productive is accomplished late at night and precious time is wasted  by the TV. Unless they have something they need to talk to us about; but generally it's bed time.  So we tell the older children they need to be in bed at 9:00 pm, but they may rise early if they would like to and get in to their day with a shower, beginning homeschooling, etc.  They may choose to get up early as long as it does not effect their countenance, pleasantness, and their ability to be productive through out the day.  If a young person chooses poorly and is overly tired and crabby during the day then mom and dad will choose their wake up time to be a little later so they'll get more sleep.  *smirk*  

The children then have free time in the day when their responsibilities are completed.  If they rise earlier and finish their responsibilities earlier then they have free time earlier.  In our home we work first when we're all fresh and at our best; and play later.  

A young child who needs unusually little sleep

We did have three different 3-year-olds who needed less sleep than any of the other children, and then when they turned 4 they were sleeping normally again like the rest of the children.  Before they turned 3 we were giving them 10 1/2 hours of sleep at night just like the rest of the children needed, but then they started not sleeping for an afternoon nap (and I desperately needed these little guys to nap).  They would also be awake at night until 10:00 pm!  This was then causing major problems for the siblings they shared a bedroom with at night, and for myself as I did not have any break during the day.  So we considered little one's 24-hour sleep needs.  In 30 minutes increments (for a week at a time) we took 90 minutes off of his night time sleep, which eventually caused him to both need an afternoon nap and to fall asleep easily at night.  For a while that meant they stayed up with us at night until 10:30 pm (playing quietly by himself in the family room until then), and got up with the rest of the kids in the morning at 7:30 am.  These children then fell asleep quickly for a 2-hour nap every afternoon.  *Aaah*  Child feels better having had a nap, and I feel better having had a break during the day.  And the child falls asleep by them self both times.

2 or 3-year-olds who "quit" napping

We do not allow children to quit napping.  *smile*  *chuckle*  Around age 18-months to 2-years our children often discover that they are able to climb out of their crib or twin bed, and because they heave learned a new skill they therefore have to develop a whole new level of self discipline to go with it.  It doesn't usually mean they don't need the sleep any longer, it simply means they have to learn self discipline much more than they had to before.  But it's important for their lives that they begin learning self discipline very young, which begins here.  And the fruit of what they learn will help them in all other areas of their little lives as well.  We help them learn this by sitting with them while they fall asleep to offer accountability (but not generally lying down with them as that then becomes a "crutch" that they need to have to fall asleep, and does not require that they really learn self discipline), and by later using a baby monitor as a second step in holding them accountable.  If they climb out of bed they have a consequence, consistently, until they receive that message and stay in bed for sleep times. 

We experienced this differently with our 2-year-old twin girls.  *sigh*  Twice as difficult because they have each other to play with, and to entice each other to disobey.  They always slept together at night, but at nap time they needed to be separate.  There bunk beds used to be adjacent and perpendicular to one another with a square "window" between the beds, and the twins play coffee shop there.  *chuckle*  One goes to the window and says to sister, "White chocolate mocha!" (which is my favorite coffee beverage to order once in a while), and sister says, "Okay!", goes and "makes it" and brings it back.  Disobedient during sleep times, but so funny; we have to bite our lip to avoid laughing. 

Enabling naps, not forcing them

For whatever reason each of our children has at the age of 3 decided that they no longer want to or need a nap any longer.  We have persevered over that hump every time and after some adjustments if necessary (which is not always necessary, but simply an attitude adjustment is required *wink*) that child continues napping through age 5.  If we determine after at least a few weeks that a child simply does not need as much sleep as they used to, then we take some sleep off of their night time like I mentioned above to enable them to need that 2-hour afternoon nap.  And I explain to that 3-year-old that sometimes kids feel like they don't want to nap any more when they are 3, but it's time to lie down now anyway because all Shupe kids get to nap until they turn 6.  *smile*

Before adjusting a child's night time sleep we would wait a few weeks or more to make sure something else isn't causing the problem.  We considered if they're just in a phase, were they having teething pain that was keeping them awake, or being tempted by something in the room to be up (such as toys), were they the right temperature while they sleept, that they didn't have to go potty or that they didn't have pooey pants (or need to) regularly right when it was time to sleep.  If there appeared to be no cause to their lack of sleep, then we'll adjust their night time in order to help them nap.

We also tried to be very consistent as to what time of day the children napped each day.  That consistency helps their little body feel ready at the designated time.  That time for some may be right after lunch around 12:30 or 1:00.  For us our children's nap time was between 2:00 and 4:00 pm because for so long we have had babies taking 2-3 naps a day, and that was one of the blocks of time the baby needed to sleep, and I needed our other children to nap at the same time so that they were all down together.

It's important that a child needs a nap if we expect them to have one.  And they generally need to be given that time 7 days a week.  Of course after about age 3 the children could miss a nap here and there if they absolutely need to for an event such as a wedding, or a party; but only for one day or maybe two before they start to have a "melt down."  *chuckle*

Napping through the age of 5 is also very beneficial when it comes to moving directly in to "play-alone times."  Typically around age 5 our children have been learning to read books, and they have developed their ability to pretend for a longer duration and to a greater depth than a 3-year-old does, so being able to play alone for 2 hours is very reasonable and do-able.

Napping alone

Another key aspect of successful nap times if having kids each be alone.  During nigh time sleep the children are ready for a long, deep sleep, and they can do that together successfully.  We have a boy's bedroom with 4 brothers in it, and a girls bedroom with 5 sisters in it.  But during afternoon naps it is light outside, there are other noises around the house, and they simply don't sleep as deeply.  Due to these facts our children have always needed to nap separately from one another.  

If a child has a crib them we have them sleep there as usual, but they need to be alone in the room.  Siblings are designated different places to sleep for naps, each in a separate room.  A younger one can sleep in a pack-n-play in our bedroom; a slightly older sibling can sleep on the floor in another room, or if necessary can sleep in the family room near to me for accountability.  We've had two children who needed a nap, but could not do so successfully without the accountability of being right with me.  So I made sure I had my computer time at the beginning of nap time, I dimmed the lights in the family room, spread out a beach towel on the floor with a pillow and a favorite stuffed animal, and that little one was required to stay lying down beside me until they fell asleep.  Once they were asleep I was free to go do other things, but that little child just seemed to lack the self-discipline to stay lying down long enough to fall asleep by themselves for that year or so.  So I helped him or her that way, and all was good-to-go.  *smile*

Napping twins

When our now 2-year-old twins were in cribs, they were in adjacent cribs (so they could be together when they wanted to, but sleep undisturbed also when they waned to) and could nap in the same room together just like they have their whole lives.  This has been our exception so far for kids napping together.  We bought another set of bunk beds and moved the girls from their cribs in to the twin-size bottom bunks.  *smile*  It was SO cute.  We didn't know if they would be able to continue sleeping in the same room together or not, but we wanted to try to make that work for them.  We tried a system that worked well at least for a while.  They were each put to bed for naps in their own beds, and an older sibling spent the beginning time in their room with them giving them accountability to stay there and go to sleep.  She sometimes took her laundry to be folded in there and did that while waiting for them to fall asleep, or she read a book, or listened to music or a message with head phones.  This worked well, with a little "help" from mom as well.  Here was their room set up.

And the boy's room looked like this:

When the novelty wore off they were be able to continue sleeping in the girls bedroom together as long as someone was there to help them stay in their beds for a while.  

Sleeping in on Saturdays

On Friday nights Bob and I are able to have a "home date" where we may have a treat to eat and watch a movie together with the oldest children after the younger children have gone to bed.  I can stay up late that one night because we get to sleep in a bit on Saturdays.

We generally let every body sleep in on Saturday mornings as long as they like.  That means about 2 hours extra sleep for Bob and I, depending upon what's going on Saturday, and before we need to be up to get the littlest children up who have already then slept in an hour or so, but that is still priceless time.  *chuckle*  So we are up in the morning by 7:00 am or so instead of 5:00 am.  But that's actually about good for me anyway, otherwise I'm not tired enough to go to bed at a decent hour Saturday night, which makes getting up on Sunday morning difficult (and staying awake in church miserable).  So we sleep in - but in moderation. The children also stay up late if we have company over on an evening and our families are all still up visiting until late into the night, and they stay up late for certain holidays, but other than that they're always in bed by 9:00 pm.  


My "Play-alone time" strategy

After our youngest 4 children were all down for naps, our oldest 5 children each went to their desired play area, usually in the same spot every day.  A couple of older ones are usually in the family room, dining room table, or kitchen to bake.  The same space that I occupy, but we just consider each other to be alone and don't talk much, and they appreciate this alone time, too.  Often they use a CD player, iPod, or iPhone and head phones for music, or an audio book, or a message to enjoy their time but also to help us each stay in our own world for those 2 hours.  Someone was in the master bedroom; another played in the family room floor, usually with a disc player to help her remember not to talk to other people; and someone younger played in the play room because they needed big motion and play space for some noise.

Our youngest ones practice play-alone time as well but they have theirs during our homeschool morning.  One would play in their room with activities for an hour, with a baby gate up to help them "remember" that they're supposed to stay there.  *wink*  And sometimes an older sibling doing her school work in the hallway outside the room to offered further reminder if the younger was tempted to go exploring.  Another child played in another bed room for 30 minutes with the same activities that the first child used.  I keept the closet doors locked so that they could not unload them as an activity.  Here are some ideas for how we locked closet doors closed. 

With a hold drilled through both doors and a long nail inserted through them. 

Or by using an extendible shower curtain rod to hold it closed.  

Or with bi-fold door locks I purchased for a few of our closets around the house.  *smile*  Awesome.

We don't have dressers in the bedrooms because we created a children's clothing closet for all of them in the garage, but if you do I encourage you to bolt them to the wall so that they cannot tip over on any little people, and children should not be allowed to empty the drawers all over the place.  One solution for this when I did have dressers in their rooms was to use the push-down cupboard or drawer locks, which worked well for us for years.   I also recommend that if you have any free-standing shelf units in the room that those also be bolted to the walls in case kids kids climb them.  With these safety precautions taken, children's rooms can be a great place to have some play alone time.

Our little 2-year-old twins also had individual play alone times in the girls bedroom for 30 minutes each from the time they were about 9 months old.  First they played in their crib, and then at about 18 months they moved to their bedroom.  I just removed the bunk bed ladder so they couldn't climb up and fall.  When they did learn to climb they did not have room time until they were older  and able to choose to stay off of the bunks.

So for all the children the main rule we had was that everyone stayed in their own area and did not come out until play alone time was over.  To not talk to anyone, not to ask questions,  to get drinks of water (having made sure they have plenty all day on either side of play alone time), not to get extra activities more than what they already have - only to use the bathroom and then return to their space.  All of the other things can wait until later.  And they knew (although they needed reminding periodically) that they needed to have everything they desire to use during alone time already with them when alone time begins.  If children were coming out to do anything, the others hear them and assume there must be a party they're missing and they all started coming out.  So, the plan is that no one comes out.  If they do come out to tell me something or say they need water (which 90% of the time means they just want to see what other people are doing), I simply smile, turn them around and point them back to the play room or wherever they came from.  

The only exception for having play-alone times was if we had been unusually busy in a day, or perhaps hadn't been home until nap time and the children hadn't played together that day in which case I we allowed them to pair up and play together.  This was also a nice one-on-one time with a sibling that they enjoy.

Our children all love to have some time to be quiet, to play without having to share, and to just be alone.  *smile*  I love that.  We've had other friends of our implement this practice with their older children even though they didn't have any nappers and their whole family just loved it, too.  It's just a nice break in the day.

I hope this has been helpful for you, reading about one way a large family can have breaks during the day time whether they have older children or younger ones, with naps and play-alone times.  It's not a mystery really, just takes some vision and the implementation of a good plan.  I would love to hear how more of you also do naps or quiet alone times, and how you've handled varying children's needs to enable them to be successful with the family's plan.

Blessings on your family's well being,

Recommended resources 
Website and blog:  The Well-Rested Family, Malia Jacobson, sleep specialist and author

You might also enjoy reading my related posts:
          On SLEEPING:
Siblings Sharing Bedrooms - "You have *how* many per room?!" 
A Large Family Interview With Malia Jacobson, Sleep Specialist and Author
Sleep Better - How to Make Your Bedroom a Better Place to Re-Charge
Motherhood With Vitality!, Part 1 of 2
Scheduling:  What To Do With Weekends? 

Family Audio Books - With an On-Going List of Recommendations!


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