What research says about the benefits of quiet time for kids

Just look at what moms around the Internet are saying about the importance of quiet time:

Leave me alone for one hour, I beg you sweet darling.

My little one is healthy and happy but drops everything now to watch TV. I let her because I need down time.

And my personal favorite:

My mom enforced naptime til I was in... middle school, perhaps? We'd come home on the bus, and she'd send us upstairs for "naptime." When we realized that was ridiculous, she started calling it “homework time.” Same duration, still had to be in our rooms.

Sound familiar? There’s a lot going on here. Exhaustion, guilt, love, and ninja-level expertise in the last example. They all point to the same big idea: quiet time is essential, not just for the little ones in your home, but for your own mental well-being, too.

If you live with a seven-year-old that could talk for 24 hours straight, then you know the importance of quiet time. Of course, you love the sound of her sweet little voice, but eventually everyone needs a break - especially if you're home all day with kids.

What can you do to get a break?

Maybe you retreat for a bath - the one moment to get some alone time and actually clean yourself - but are soon disrupted by cries from downstairs (or the cat popping his head in). Perhaps you retreat to the laundry room because it’s the only place that’s quiet (and it has your secret chocolate stash). Or maybe you allow your little one to sit in front of the tv because you are just the type of person that needs some down time for yourself and it feels like the only way to make it work.

The reasons for moms and dads to make sure children get daily quiet time is easy to see: parents can have a few minutes to themselves to finally curl up with a good book or just catch up with streaming favorite shows.

Without understanding the benefits of quiet time for kids, though, it’s easy for guilt to creep in. You may feel you’re putting your kids away for an hour because you need some silence. Of course, you may feel even more guilty if your child is resistant to quiet time.

But after you take a look at all the reasons why quiet time is important for children (and even teens), it becomes clear that establishing the right routine for quiet time at home is a WIN-WIN.

Why quiet time is important (today more than ever)

When it comes to the research-backed benefits of quiet time and solitude, the results are fairly clear. As long as children are not consistently alone (as in, going without proper care or attention) or lonely (as in, lacking proper social relationships), quiet time has benefits across the child development stages:

  • For all humans, our brains solidify what we’ve learned when we are awake but resting, according to NYU researchers. Who needs this more than our youngsters?
  • Adolescents in one study felt more alertness and other positive states after periods of being alone.
  • Even seven-year-olds in the same study could explain to researchers that being alone was time for peace, quiet, relaxation, problem-solving, planning-ahead, daydreaming, and concentration. (I imagine they used other words.)

And not only does research point to broad benefits of being alone, but more studies point to the increasing need to gain these benefits. I’m referring to the uptick in anxiety observed over the past one to two decades.

A Washington Post article explained that the National Survey of Children’s Health found a 20 percent increase in anxiety for children ages 6 to 17 between 2007 and 2012.

Does anything stand out to you in the quote I cited above? Notice that the age range is 6 to 17. It is surprising that six-year-olds would even fall into the range of kids studied by the researchers.  It's even more concerning to consider that this group of youngsters is experiencing an increasing amount of anxiety.

So the benefits of quiet time are clear, and the need for quiet time is growing - but what about the challenges of actually spending time alone?

Being alone is hard - for everybody

Consider this recent study, which showed that people would prefer to receive an electrical shock than to be alone with our thoughts. Part of this, is the constant connection experienced in daily life because of increased smartphone usage.

But if being alone is important for our health and it’s very hard to do - that means it’s important for parents to cultivate opportunities for their children to have quiet time in solitude from a young age. And, ideally, they could sustain that habit throughout childhood and even into adolescence.

Remember this: solitude and neglect are not synonymous.  - Jennifer Paterson

Not to mention, there is the issue of how to get a kid to do alone time, so everyone has the time to unwind that they need. Is putting on a TV show a good way to do alone time? Is giving the kid an iPad for an hour the way to do it? Should they use these screens in bed? Should parents just make sure that everybody gets alone time no matter what? Lots of questions.

Then there are the social pressures, either imagined or heard, from other parents or family members. In her article “The Benefits of Solitude for Kids and Parents Alike” Jennifer Paterson empathizes with free-range parents everywhere: “if you leave your children alone — to ride their bikes around town, or to play games in their own bedrooms — there’s a good chance you’ll be judged for ‘neglecting’ them. Remember this: solitude and neglect are not synonymous.”

In our era of mom-shaming and constant comparisons, this is wise advice to remember.

The best way to start quiet time is to never stop

Like with many aspects of parenting, instituting a habit of quiet time is going to come down to your family’s schedule and your child’s personality and needs. For my older son, age 4, he still takes a nap most days, but the routine of bringing him up for a nap is consistent. This results in him having “quiet time” every day even if he doesn’t actually fall asleep.

Like with any other habit you want to build with kids, consistency is key.

If you’re trying to institute a quiet time routine after naps have already stopped, Leigh Anderson offers several helpful tips in her Lifehacker article, including:

  • Use a visual timer so kids know how much time is left
  • Use the “gentle returns” technique (like with sleep training) to quietly bring kids back to their room if necessary
  • Give kids choices about where they have quiet time and how they spend their time
  • Make sure the kids know that quiet time is for everybody (parent needs it too)

But what about for older kids? Earlier, I mentioned how the need and benefits for solitude spans the stages of child development. Teens need solitude as well. We all know the stereotypes of angsty teens wanting to be left alone. But that might be more fiction than fact today. Almost half of teens today report being online “almost constantly,” meaning there’s not so much high quality solitude happening.

Quiet time for older kids: meditation for teens

Although parents might be acutely aware of their own need for quiet time when children are younger, some of the biggest benefits of high quality quiet time is for adolescents. The good thing is that these sessions of quiet time need not be long to provide real value.

Researchers have found that “momentary solitude” or short sessions of quiet time, offered great value to adolescents. These benefits include feeling free from social restrictions and demands, emotional renewal, creativity, improved concentration, and increased sense of control.

Notice how important this is. So many of the positive behaviors parents hope to cultivate in teenagers - emotional renewal (being in a good mood), creativity, concentration - can all be improved through taking time to be alone.

While sending a teen up to his room for a nap might be out of the question for some parents, there are other healthy behaviors parents can introduce to a teen’s routine to mimic the benefits of quiet time. One of these is meditation.

A program called Quiet Time, organized by the David Lynch Foundation (yes, the eccentric filmmaker), has helped thousands of children from low income schools reduce their stress and anxiety while improving concentration. This program uses a specific type of meditation called Transcendental Meditation. While this is a specific program led by instructors, there are many meditations apps available (mostly with free versions offered) teens can use for as little as 10, 5, or even 2 minutes a time).

Some meditation resources to suggest to your teen:

“I need some peace and quiet”

The good news is that research clearly shows that everyone needs a break - parents and kids alike. Instead of feeling guilty about the desire to be apart from children, it’s important to remember the real benefits of making sure that both parents and children consistently get time for peaceful solitude. Of course, this is easier said than done. I’m a dad with two boys, ages four and one, so I know that theory and practice can sometimes clash.

Either way, here’s a recap of everything we’ve covered:

  • There are tremendous benefits to positive solitude experiences for kids of all ages.
  • Because of increasing anxiety amongst children and teens, a quiet time habit may be more important to develop today than ever.
  • There are challenges, both logistical and physiological, with being alone (even for adults).
  • Following a routine while maintaining flexibility can help to start a quiet time habit or transition a nap to quiet time.
  • Teens are constantly connected to devices and might need short quiet time sessions more than anyone - meditation is an option.

If you're a parent making intentional choices about your child's wellness and learning, then you'll love the small, affordable, live online classes at Outschool. You can sign up for a free Outschool account today.

Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson teaches English full-time at a public high school in New Jersey. He also writes about teaching, learning and technology for education startups.

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