You know the days. You book brunch before a birthday party, then a visit with grandparents afterward, thinking that because it fits on the calendar without overlapping blocks that it will work. Your toddler melts down at the party, or at your inlaws, or in the middle of a Starbucks where you stop to refuel because this day is too much, even for you. Even when they stop napping, and we suggest you keep that naptime for the longest time possible, young children need downtime to recharge and be at their best.
Much like when they are babies and live in four-hour cycles of eat, play, sleep, repeat, toddlers and young children need a period of rest between activities. As they are awake for more hours in the day, it is tempting to plan more activities, but the risk of disaster is high. Instead of planning an extra playdate or scheduled event, plan some quiet time activities that you will both enjoy. They can be playful and productive, as long as they are also quiet and not overstimulating or physically tiring. Think about your own downtime experiences. What do you do to recharge? We collected answers from adults to show that young children are not that different.
For many children and parents, this is the most soothing, nurturing and relaxing way to engage with your little one when they are tired. Your house is full of books, and you could spend hours comforting your child with stories and cuddles, even in the middle of the day.
Who doesn’t feel better after a bath or shower? While we usually use baths at bedtime to help children unwind, on a busy day, a bath after a long play in the park in the hot sun can be the perfect way to calm down. Combining a sensory experience with free play, bath time can be very engaging and relaxing! It also starts the process to get ready for what’s next in the day.
It doesn’t sound like downtime, but who doesn’t feel better after doing a load of laundry or emptying the dishwasher? Children actually like helping, and these are quiet indoor activities. Take advantage of their enthusiasm and desire to spend time with you while they are young! Little ones can help sort laundry into piles or play with measuring cups alongside a parent in the kitchen. They can play quietly while also being part of the daily responsibilities. When grownups are overscheduled, these are often the things that pile up and make Sunday night miserable. Make room in the schedule and make this a downtime activity for everyone. You will all benefit in the long run!
When your child has had enough with all the socializing, pull out the playdoh and crayons and sit down with them to create. Having an art station in your house means you always have a place for automatic downtime for the whole family. Follow your child’s interests and plan your escape.
Nourishing the body nourishes the soul. Do not underestimate the power of a fun baking project! The nice thing about baking is it takes patience and time, helping everyone to understand that certain things cannot be rushed. In the middle of a busy day, planning to spend the afternoon baking or cooking something is a fun way to plan a few hours of quiet indoor time and may help you model being good guests when you do venture out again, this time with calm children and cookies in hand!
As summer approaches, it can be tempting to spend long days outdoors with our children, moving from one activity to the next. As adults, we may be used to that from our pre-baby days. But when toddlers are outside with friends, they do not lay on the beach reading a novel under an umbrella when they get tired. They are in constant motion, and they need us to plan their downtime for them. Taking a break indoors, being mindful of their needs and finding quiet activities will help you raise balanced, well-rested children. It will help keep you in balance, too.