Naptime. Quiet time. Siesta, if you will. Call it what you want. But do not underestimate its importance for happy family life, particularly with kids about four and under. In actuality, this principle can serve any family of any age and any size.
CHILDREN NEED REST
This isn't anything new, and it shouldn't be a "news flash"... but children need rest. Rest ought to be a regular part of their day. Their young bodies are growing, their young minds are growing, and they need their rest to "catch up" with and to cope with the busy-ness of life.
I've even heard many moms of little ones proudly say, "oh, she's grown out of naps", or "he doesn't need a nap", but then the child quickly reveals his own need for it... disobedience, whiny tantrums, and fussy attitudes suddenly begin surfacing. What that child is saying, even though his words might say otherwise, is: "I need some rest, mom. I've run out of steam."
Recently, in a discussion of homeschooling with toddlers, one mom admitted that she struggled to homeschool at all because of interruptions from a toddler, and that "forced naps" seem too "punitive".
[Siderant: "Punitive" is a really popular, overused word now to describe anything that in any way seems mean to the speaker. It doesn't have to be carried out meanly, it doesn't even have to be perceived as negative by the child, and it doesn't even have to BE a negative action... there seems to be no consistent definition for it, except that if a woman does not like a particular parenting method or style or choice, or perhaps it was carried out meanly to her when she was a child, and she thinks it sounds mean, then she gets to call it punitive.]
Naps are not punitive. On the contrary, giving rest to a child that needs it (a.k.a, a toddler who interrupts and whines and disobeys and throws fits) is the loving thing to do.
The Lord, our Shepherd, "makes [us] lie down" to restore our souls. He gives sleep to those He loves. Throughout Scripture, peaceful, secure homes, countries, and places are described as quiet resting places. Indeed, a disciplined child gives rest to his parents. God even planned a day of "rest" in the weekly routine. Regular times of rest are a centerpiece of a well-ordered home.
BUILD A REGULAR HABIT OF REST
This has been a natural part of our home-- as infants, our children take multiple naps throughout the day and sleep well at night. Around 5-6 months, they transition to a two-nap routine (a cumulative four-five hours, split between morning and afternoon naps, with eight-eleven hours of sleep at night), and around 12-18 months, they usually transition to a one-nap routine, which lasts around 2-3 hours, and they keep that up until around age four.
Homes that have not built this in through infant routines may have to work at it... but by the time a child is one, he ought to have at least one good long nap every single day. And, please, don't bring out the tired (get my joke?) old "schedule vs. AP" debate-- I'm not saying anything revolutionary. Preschools and kindergartens the world over recognize the value and importance of regular rest for children, so let's not pretend that this is some kind of radical idea.
However you go about it, I would encourage you to build in a natural cycle of rest into your family's daily life. This does mean that you'll have to be "working at home" and won't be galavanting around the town each afternoon, it's true... but there are worse things than having 2-3 quiet hours to yourself. For example, having 2-3 hours of a whiny toddler throwing tantrums and raising your blood pressure until you pop. That would be worse. Or, having two such children who argue and fight with each other and don't obey and allow no one in the home to have a moment's peace. That would be worse.
But getting rest? Some peace and quiet? Oh, yes, please! If you don't already, build it into your family routine. Your kids (though they may not verbally express it) will voice their thanks over the course of time through good attitudes and a cheerful countenance.
WHAT DO THE KIDS DO DURING REST TIME?
Well, the obvious first thing to do is rest. I strongly believe that until a child can cheerfully occupy himself for the 2-3 hour quiet time AND control his own attitude for the remainder of the day, he needs a nap. Every day.
And yes, sometimes that will mean that you try giving up naptime, only to find that little Sally isn't ready for nap-free life yet (which will be evidenced by her emotional fragility and tantrums thrown throughout the remainder of the evening). So, the next day, back down she goes. Trial and error.
But at some point (which, as I mentioned, with our own children typically happens around four years of age), your child will pass the stage for daily naps. Occasional naps may still be needed, but this child has mastered her own attitudes and isn't crying out (literally) for naps each day.
So when a child reaches the age where they may not sleep during the day, that child still can have a time of rest. For us, what that typically looks like is quietly hanging out with a huge stack of books. I'll find that child a spot somewhere in the house (sometimes on our bed, sometimes on the couch, sometimes at the table on the balcony, sometimes in a cozy corner), and he will read quietly. As the child develops a pattern of consistent awake rest and quiet time, I'll sometimes open up that daily time to include quiet toys (by himself) or coloring. The point is that it will be a time of rest... a quiet, peaceful couple of hours for everyone in the middle of each day.
EXPANDING THIS PRINCIPLE AS THE CHILDREN GROW
As the children grow, I can foresee this being a time of quiet reading, research, journaling, or going for a walk. And as they approach adulthood, this could transition to a time of work-- working with dad, cooking or doing chores, or doing schoolwork.
For the homeschooling family, continuing the quiet time will reinforce naps for the little ones (if there are any) and may allow older children to accomplish the heavier "brainwork" of school, or just give them some "down time" after a busy morning.
For the pregnant mom, this principle will give HER the opportunity to nap mid-day if she needs it, as her children will all be in the habit of regular rest for those two to three hours each day.
Whatever the myriad ways it could play out in varying families, I'm convinced that building a habit of a daily rest time into your family life can be a real blessing, for you and your children.