Years ago, when I had three children under three, I talked to a close friend of mine, a mom older than me who had more kids and more experience.
“I feel tired pretty much all the time,” I told her honestly. “And the kids are always around me–usually, physically *on* me. And the oldest no longer naps! Sometimes I just feel suffocated.”
She nodded, understanding immediately.
“Yes, that’s how it gets sometimes. Especially when they’re young and clingy, and especially if you have more than one. What you need to do is introduce daily quiet time for your 3-year-old.”
I took her advice and ran with it. It has helped save my sanity, *and* it has helped my kids learn to be independent and to self-entertain.
Here’s how it works in our household.
We call this وقت الهدوء (Quiet Time).
When my oldest child was about 3 or 3 and a half, I started by telling him that every day after lunch, instead of the nap he no longer takes, he must sit quietly on the couch and read. By “read,” I meant look at pictures in board books we would check out from the library.
His younger brothers, 1.5 years old and 3 months old, were usually napping at this time.
He can get as many books as he likes, I explained. But he cannot be loud, or come and talk to Mama or ask her anything (unless he needs the bathroom).
Initially, he whined, and was bewildered as to why his access to me was so rudely restricted. What do you MEAN, I have to sit quietly reading by myself, when you are right here, so convenient as a playmate??
He was indignant, in the way only a 3-year-old can be.
But I kept gently reassuring him that we all would benefit from sitting quietly by ourselves and doing our own thing, just for a little while.
We started with just 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes became easy, we increased the time to 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Then half an hour.
My son found, after his initial reluctance, that he rather enjoyed leafing through all the fun library books about trucks and police cars and farm animals. He started to get absorbed in the task and started to whine less that he had to do it.
Then, over the years, my second child dropped his afternoon nap as well, and I did the same with him. I set him up in a different room of the house, and instructed him to be quiet and read and play on his own, just like big brother.
It was a bit easier with the second guy, because there was precedence.
But my second child was a hummer, and loved to hum blissfully to himself as he read or played. He wasn’t quiet, which made his hitherto-quiet older brother also not quiet.
I had to keep reminding him to stop humming and to be quieter.
Then a third child was added to Quiet Time. Then a fourth.
The format this takes these days is that there are 2 segments:
وقت الهدوء الانفرادي ووقت الهدوء الجماعي
Individual Quiet Time, and Group Quiet Time
Just as the names suggest, I have the kids go into different parts of the house (except for 2-year-old Khalid, who roams wherever he pleases) and play or read quietly individually for 30 minutes.
Then, when time’s up, they are allowed to convene and play all together as a group for the next 30 minutes, but they still have to be (somewhat) quiet and leave Mama alone.
Usually, to be perfectly honest, they neither are very quiet nor do they really leave me alone. Let’s be real. 🤣
But it *is* usually quieter than the normal times during the rest of the day. They still fight or squabble and I have to referee at times, but I keep reminding them that it’s quiet time so they need to bring the noise level down.
It’s important for kids to spend quality time together with their parents and siblings, but it’s equally important for kids to learn how to be alone.
How to enjoy a bit of solitude.
Depending eternally on others for fun and looking to others to act as external sources of entertainment isn’t good for kids or adults.
When we teach our children how to sit quietly, how to be alone with their thoughts, we give them space to be creative. To use their imagination unhampered by the noise of others. To explore their own ideas unrestricted by the expectations of others. We remove the external influences and allow them to see what emerges.
Some adults, even, have not quite mastered this skill. It’s never too late to learn. But as parents, it’s a gift we can give to our children from a young age by enforcing a daily slot of alone time, even if it’s short.
-Via Umm Khalid