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 company 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. If there is always noise and people, how is one to learn to hear from Him?
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.
- Our sleep principles
- Older children who need less sleep
- A young child who needs unusually little sleep
- 2 or 3-year-olds who "quit" napping
- Enabling naps, not forcing them
- Napping alone
- Napping twins
- Sleeping in on Saturdays
- My "play-alone time" strategy
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~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 lay down with a child to help them fall asleep. I do not do this at either naps or at night time. We enabled the children from the time they were 3-months-old 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.
We do require that young children stay in their beds at night once they are sent to bed (unless older ones need to use the bathroom). If they choose to disobey then we have to implement the established consequences, however we have also enabled the children to be tired at the appropriate time of night so they are generally ready to stay in bed and go to sleep. They usually take 10-20 minutes to whisper a bit and quiet themselves in their respective bedrooms, but then they go to sleep.
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 (and I am up at 5:00 am so they are not unsupervised), 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 then every morning when a person needs to get the sleep they need. So we tell the older children they need to be in bed at 9:00 pm, but they may rise early if they need 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 during the day then mom and dad will choose their wake up time. *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. Currently our 14-year-old daughter gets up at 6:00 am by her own choice, and that is plenty of sleep for her. Our 13-year-old gets up at 6:30 am, and the 10-year-old down through the 2-year-olds get up at 7:30 am. The exception, however, is our 3-year-old little son who needs less sleep than all the rest of the children - go figure. *chuckle* Here's now we handle it.
A young child who needs unusually little sleep
We are currently on our second 3-year-old son who has needed less sleep than any of the other children, and then when he turned 4 he was sleeping normally again like the rest of the children. Before he turned 3 we were giving him 10 1/2 hours of sleep at night just like the rest of the children, but then he started not sleeping for an afternoon nap (and I desperately needed these little men to nap) and he would also be awake at night until 10:00 pm! This was then causing major problems for the brothers he shares a bedroom with at night, and for myself as I did not have any break during the day. So we considered little son'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 now this means that he stays up with us at night until 10:30 pm (playing quietly by himself in the family room until then), and gets up with the rest of the kids in the morning at 7:30 am. He then falls asleep quickly for a 2-hour nap every afternoon. *Aaah* He feels better having had a nap, and I feel better having had a break during the day. And he falls asleep by himself 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 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 are experiencing this difficulty currently with our 2-year-old twin girls. *sigh* Twice as difficult as they have each other to play with, and to entice each other to disobey. We're still hoping they'll be able to nap together and not need to be separated, and I think they will be able to. If not then we'll have to have one sleep in a pack-n-play in our bedroom during nap time only. We'll see. *smile* Right now their bunk beds sit 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 wait a few weeks or more to make sure something else isn't causing the problem. We consider if they're just in a phase, are having teething pain that's keeping them awake, are being tempted by something in the room to be up (such as toys), that they're the right temperature while they sleep, that they don't have to go potty or that they don't have pooey pants (or need to) regularly right when it's time to sleep. If there appears to be no cause to their lack of sleep, then we'll adjust their night time in order to help them nap.
We also try to be very consistent as to what time of day the children nap 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 is 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.
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 or walk-in closet; 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*
Currently this is where each of our youngest children sleep. We have our 2-year-old twins sleeping together in the girls' bedroom, our 3-year-old napping by himself in the boy's bedroom, and our 4-year-old sleeping in a crib in our walk-in closet in our master bedroom. The 4-year-old has a twin bed he uses at night when he's ready for that deep-deep sleep, but he has yet to nap there successfully during the day time. He needs to have that nap, and he usually falls asleep within about 5 minutes when he's in the crib with the crib tent on it so that he doesn't have the option of getting out; but if he's in his room he's just too tempted to be up and about messing around and then he falls apart late afternoon. So - even though he's getting older (just turned 4) - the crib with the crib tent is what's necessary for his successful nap time. But he does so well there and settles right in every afternoon. *smile*
When our now 2-year-old twins were in cribs, up until this past week, 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. This week we bought another set of bunk beds with some tax return money and moved the girls from their cribs in to the twin-size bottom bunks. *smile* It's been 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 are currently trying a system that is working well at least for the short term. They are each put to bed for naps in their own beds, and our 13-year-old daughter spends the beginning time in their room with them giving them accountability to stay there and go to sleep. She sometimes takes her laundry to be folded in there and does that while waiting for them to fall asleep, or she reads a book, or listens to music or a message with head phones. This has worked well, with a little "help" from mom as well. Here's their new room set up.
I think soon as the novelty wears off they will be able to continue sleeping in the girls bedroom together as long as someone is there to help them stay in their beds for a while. If after a month or so they still need someone to be with them in order to have the self-discipline to stay in bed and sleep, then we may need to set up an extra-large pack-n-play in our bedroom for one of the to sleep in. We'll see. *smile*
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 after the 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. This only means about 1-2 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.
We do not allow the older children to stay up late on Friday or Saturday nights at this time because Friday is mine and Bob's only night to have a home date alone together, and Sunday mornings we're up at our usual time to be ready to go to church so they can't stay up late Saturday nights. The children 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. But we don't feel that staying up late is something they need to do when younger than 14-years-old anyway. They do well with regular night's sleep, and they haven't yet shown themselves mature enough to determine to have a good day the next day even when overly tired, so we're just skip all that until they're older and are able to do so.
My "Play-alone time" strategy
After our youngest 4 children are all down for naps, our oldest 5 children each go to their desired play area, usually in the same spot every day, and gets their activities going. Karen (14) and Melanie (13) 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, and they appreciate this alone time, too. Often they use a CD player 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. Brandon (10) plays on the floor in the master bedroom; Anna Marie (7) plays in the family room floor, usually with a disc player to help her remember not to talk to other people; and Riley (6) plays in the play room because he needs 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. Tyler (4) plays in his room with activities for an hour, with a baby gate up to help him "remember" that he's supposed to stay there. *wink* And sometimes a big sister doing her school work in the hallway outside the room to offer further reminder if he's tempted to go exploring. Spencer (3) plays in his room for 30 minutes with the same activities that Tyler used. I keep the closet doors locked so that they cannot unload them as an activity. Here are some ideas for how we've 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 recommend that you 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. But since they have learned to climb now they are actually not having room time until they are older as we've not been able to keep them down from the bunk beds.
So for all the children the main rule we have is that everyone stays in their own area and does not come out until play alone time is over. Not to talk to anyone, not to ask questions, not 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 - only to use the bathroom and then return to their space. All of the other things can wait until later. And they know (although they need reminding periodically) that they need to have everything they desire to use during alone time already with them when alone time begins. If children are coming out to do anything, the others hear them and assume there must be a party they're missing and they all start coming out. So 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 turn them around and point them back to the play room or wherever they came from.
The only exception for having play-alone times is if we've been unusually busy in a day, or perhaps haven't been home until nap time and the children haven't played together that day In this case I we allow them to pair up and play together. This is 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,
Website and blog: The Well-Rested Family, Malia Jacobson, sleep specialist and author
You might also enjoy reading my related posts:
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?
On PLAY-ALONE TIMES
Family Audio Books - With an On-Going List of Recommendations!
Large Family Discipleship: Protecting Our Children's Minds Through Books